David Sweeney

Partner, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Houston
35 FortyUnder40 feat. Sweeney, David

David Sweeney’s ability to articulate large, complex deals has fostered a résumé that far outweighs his age.

Collectively, Sweeney has engaged in some of the oil and gas industry’s heftiest transactions with an aggregate value of $65 billion. His M&A resume includes Diamondback Energy Inc.’s $9.2 billion merger with Energen Corp., Gulfport Energy Corp.’s $1.8 billion acquisition of Vitruvian Exploration, Stone Energy Corp.’s $2.5 billion merger with Talos Energy and Apache Corp.’s acquisition of a portion of BP Plc’s upstream assets for $7 billion.

In 2012, Sweeney represented Kinder Morgan Inc. in its $38 billion acquisition of El Paso Corp. and the $7.15 billion sale of El Paso Corp.’s E&P business. To navigate transactions in such a tense environment, he says he tries to live by what he calls a transactional lawyer’s version of the serenity prayer. “Give me the serenity to resist changing the things that needn’t be changed, the drafting skills to change what must be changed and the judgment to know the difference.” 

Still, Sweeney cites being voted by his Akin Gump associates as “Partner of the Year” in 2018 and developing his book on world-wide joint operating agreements as the professional achievements he reveres most. 

Being recognized for his professional development by his peers and growing from the writing and editing process are two achievements that he feels have done “far more … than any number of numbers.”

“If you didn’t get your uniform dirty, you didn’t play.”

On industry: “I love this industry. No matter where you are, it’s intimately connected with the ground,” he says, reflecting on the beginning of his career as a landman. 

“The international version of our business is even more connected with the ground in that you are dealing with a sovereign country’s resources, and maybe as a result of that, there tends to be a lot more face-time. Viewing it from dirt-up in this way, I feel as though I have an appreciation for the industry— how the individual pieces actually work—that most don’t have.” 

“If you didn’t get your uniform dirty, you didn’t play,” he jokes. 

Sweeney has done business in over 30 countries, serving as a law partner, landman, vice president, general counsel and chief compliance officer. 

Goals: “I would like to be part of a group that is on the short list for an oil and gas-related project. Long-term, I would like that group to become self-sustaining [and] independent of any of its individual parts. To that end, my goal is for people on my team to force me to re-invent my practice because all of my clients become their clients.” 

On mentors: Sweeney highlights his first boss, J.J. McAnelly, as a significant influence in his career. “His way of training was visionary, and he showed enough faith in me to put me in charge of large segments of large projects as a very young lawyer. There is no better training than ‘getting to play early.’” 

He notes that working alongside in-house lawyer Lisa Shelton Jaubert helped mold his fundamental skills as a lawyer. “She took quite a bit of time to coach me through both substantive issues and the practice of law generally. In retrospect, she probably saved me from looking foolish on multiple occasions.” He believes that Lisa’s example made him a more effective member of his team at Akin Gump. 

Advice to young professionals: “Before all else, try to gain as much substantive expertise as you possibly can. If you don’t understand something, don’t be content simply to find an answer. Find out why the answer is what it is, how other people have done it and what you can add. The sooner you develop true substantive expertise, the sooner you will get to have fun.”