George Fibbe, a senior lawyer with the U.S. Department of Energy and former general counsel of Sunnova Energy Corp., has joined Baker Botts, the firm announced Tuesday.
At Baker Botts, Fibbe will divide his time between the firm’s Houston and Washington, D.C. offices and will practice complex commercial litigation and energy regulatory matters. His expertise primarily focuses on high-stakes matters across many industries within the energy sector — upstream and midstream oil & gas, LNG, renewables, nuclear and power.
At the DOE, Fibbe was deputy general counsel for litigation, regulation and enforcement. In that role, he oversaw commercial litigation and a broad range of environmental and administrate law cases throughout the U.S. He joined the DOE in May 2017 and left this July.
His role at the DOE also entailed supporting the DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) office, including providing advice on rulemaking, regulatory reform, oversight and EERE programs.
From 2014 to 2017, he was GC at Houston-based Sunnova, one of Baker Botts’ major clients and a leading company in the residential solar energy space. Before that, he was the head of litigation for BHP Billiton’s petroleum business. After clerking for U.S. District Judge Martin L.C. Feldman in the Eastern District of Louisiana, Fibbe began his legal career at Yetter Coleman, where he made partner in 2007.
“I am excited to return to private practice and join the firm that wrote the book on energy litigation and regulation,” Fibbe said. “Baker Botts’ work in the energy sector is second-to-none, and I look forward to working closely with this world-class team of lawyers.”
Leaders at Baker Botts expressed they were pleased with their new hire.
“As complexity in the energy sector continues to increase, so does our clients’ need for hands-on expertise in commercial litigation as well as regulatory and compliance matters,” Baker Botts Managing Partner John Martin said. “The addition of George will advance these objectives and provide additional value to our clients.”
“We are always looking to build upon our first-in-class Energy Litigation Practice,” said Van Beckwith, Baker Botts’ litigation department chair. “George is a standup trial lawyer who, through his government service, has developed command of regulatory litigation and enforcement, and through his corporate service, has gained an invaluable perspective of the legal risks faced by renewables, E&P and midstream companies.”
Fibbe is one of several former federal government officials that Baker Botts has hired in the last year. In Washington, D.C., the firm nabbed former Federal Trade Commission Chair and Commissioner Maureen Olhausen and Jeffrey Wood, the former acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environmental & Natural Resources Division.
In San Francisco, the firm added Peter Huston, the former assistant chief of the DOJ’s antitrust division. Baker Botts also announced Tuesday that it has added former federal prosecutor Brendan Quigley to the firm’s New York office. Quigley was an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
The Texas Lawbook asked Fibbe a few questions to learn more about his background and practice. Find out more below.
The Texas Lawbook: What made you want to return to private practice, and specifically, what drew you to Baker Botts?
George Fibbe: I thoroughly enjoyed my time in government service, but the opportunity to join Baker Botts was too good to pass up. With a tremendous history and depth of talent, Baker Botts is one of the world’s leading law firms serving the needs of clients in the energy sector. I had the opportunity to work with the firm’s lawyers on a variety of matters over the years, and I believe the collaborative environment and strong presence not only in Texas and D.C., but worldwide, will be a great fit for my practice.
TLB: Please describe two or three of the most significant cases/matters that you’ve handled in your career.
GF: Without getting into specific matters at the Department of Energy, I can say that the sheer scope of the Department’s operations and the complexity of its litigation and regulatory matters made for some of the most fascinating work of my career. From nuclear waste cleanup and nuclear defense materials issues to cases involving renewables, LNG exports, land acquisition, and challenges to energy efficiency regulations, there were few cases at DOE that did not have great significance for taxpayers and regulated communities.
As in-house counsel at BHP Billiton, I handled many mineral rights and royalty cases arising from the company’s onshore shale operations, and at Sunnova my largest projects were in the finance arena, where we raised over $1 billion in debt and equity for the company.
Previously, in private practice, I had the privilege of working on a major antitrust case for American Airlines against its former subsidiary Sabre. Also, although it may not have been as large as some of my other cases, I enjoyed the opportunity to represent Habitat for Humanity International in an important trademark case.
TLB: How did your experiences as both former deputy general counsel of the DOE and as former general counsel of Sunnova/head of litigation at BHT Billiton shape you as a lawyer?
GF: My experiences in government and in-house have certainly broadened my range as a lawyer and have helped me appreciate the complexity of issues facing energy clients today. As a lawyer, when you are helping clients address their most difficult, high-stakes challenges, there often will be litigation, regulatory, and even corporate transactional components to a comprehensive solution.
TLB: What have been your biggest lessons learned in those previous roles that will help you as you transition back into the law firm world?
GF: One of the key lessons is that it is critical to understand the client’s business thoroughly and to focus not only on winning the case, but also on helping clients achieve their important business goals. Having sat on the in-house side of the table, I have a more complete understanding of the challenges that in-house counsel face and how an outside attorney can become an invaluable partner for solving difficult commercial and regulatory problems.
TLB: What kinds of trends or hot issues are you currently seeing in your practice area?
GF: The progress of renewable energy sources remains a major and steady trend, and that produces a number of challenges to existing business models. Advances in energy storage have the potential to change the power sector substantially, including from a regulatory perspective, in coming years. At the same time, security of our existing energy infrastructure, including data and cybersecurity, is a critical challenge for the entire energy industry, from utilities to midstream companies to exploration and production firms.
TLB: We are very familiar with how active Sunnova is deal-wise. When you were GC there, did your role cause you to have to wear both the litigation and transactional hats? If so, what was that experience like?
GF: At Sunnova, I had the opportunity to lead the legal team in transactional matters as well as litigation, regulatory, corporate governance, and day-to-day commercial operations issues. The wide range of legal tasks at a fast-growing solar company made for an outstanding opportunity for me to broaden my experience. As I look forward to practice at Baker Botts, I expect that my transactional experience will allow me to counsel energy clients on various aspects of managing litigation and regulatory risk arising from both major financing deals as well as routine operations.