Mark Berg and Barry Thomas
As winners of the 2022 DFW Corporate Counsel Award for Pro Bono and Public Service, Mark Berg and Barry Thomas have more in common than the fact that they are high-ranking colleagues at Pioneer Natural Resources: They are both committed to leveraging their time and talents for the betterment of others.
Pro Bono Writer Natalie Posgate had the opportunity to chat with Berg and Thomas both about their pro bono projects and about ways that readers of The Texas Lawbook can help.
To read Natalie Posgate’s full profile of Mark Berg and Barry Thomas Click Here
The Texas Lawbook: How can Texas Lawbook readers (corporate lawyers) help CASA?
Mark Berg: While CASA volunteers are not required to have prior experience in law or social services, attorneys make extraordinarily effective child advocates. Corporate and law firm management can make an impact by supporting the involvement of their attorneys and staff as CASA volunteers and by counting those volunteer hours toward any community service or pro bono expectations. By way of example, there are a number of Pioneer employees who volunteer their time to serve as CASA advocates with the support of our company. Law departments and law firms also can help by supporting Dallas CASA events, including a spring Cherish the Children luncheon, a fall Champion of Children dinner and the ever-popular Dallas CASA Young Professionals’ CASAblanca Casino Party (coming up on Feb. 4).
Lawbook: You mentioned when you were profiled in 2019 for the ACC-DFW’s Lifetime Achievement Award that people still do not appreciate the significant benefits that the U.S. has realized since the crude export ban was lifted that you helped achieve. Do you think that has changed, and what have been the additional benefits since?
Berg: Time has proven the importance of a healthy oil and gas industry in the U.S. to help meet global demand for energy. In the wake of the war in Ukraine and the resulting energy supply shortages, leaders in the free world have come to appreciate the importance of the supply of oil and gas from the U.S. Not only do U.S. operators provide some of the lowest emission oil and gas for the world, but they also contribute to keeping energy costs down and increasing energy security. A debate remains over what role oil and gas will play in the energy transition over the long term. We believe global demand for oil and gas will continue for decades into the future, and responsible U.S. operators are needed to help meet that demand. The ability to export U.S. oil and gas remains critical for maintaining the global balance of supply and demand for energy and maintaining energy security for the free world.
Lawbook: Your wife said in the last profile that you believe you cannot succeed unless you have failed. Could you identify one or two times you failed in your life or career and how that helped you later succeed?
Berg: Well, that’s a tough question. Too many examples to choose from! I chose to move from law to into business for the opportunity to participate in setting strategy, making decisions and business execution. I learned early in that process the pain of making wrong decisions, and I have plenty examples over the years. The examples aren’t important, but the lessons are. I’ve learned over the years that a wrong decision is not a failure; no one is perfect. Wrong decisions only become failures if you don’t learn and grow from them or if you don’t maintain a strong moral compass. I learned from my colleagues at Pioneer that it is critical for leaders to constructively address mistakes or bad choices. If people are punished for mistakes, they will operate out of fear and not take well-reasoned risks in the future. An unwillingness to take risk or make tough calls will stifle the business. It’s also important to foster a culture where honest mistakes are embraced and openly evaluated so that all involved can learn. That’s how Pioneer operates.
Texas Lawbook: Tell us about your work in pro bono our public service before joining the Permian Strategic Partnership. What are some causes that you are personally passionate about, and what do you believe is the source of that passion?
Barry Thomas: I have done pro bono legal work as long as I’ve been licensed, mostly through various legal clinics providing legal services to people who otherwise would go without. It is always sobering to see the disadvantage that falls on those who are drawn into the legal system and don’t have experience with it or the ability to obtain adequate representation.
Lawbook: How did Covid affect PSP?
Thomas: Covid hit PSP the same way it hit PSP’s members: like a freight train. We immediately reexamined our open projects to determine whether they fit with the new lower price environment. At the same time, we made sure our grantees and the community knew that our commitment to the people of the Basin remained unchanged. Through the generosity of our members, we continued to fund the projects that made the most sense and looked for ways to help the community deal with the disease.
Lawbook: As the price of crude oil fluctuates, does that affect how much PSP can give back to the Permian community?
Thomas: The commitment that PSP’s members have to the organization’s goals is very strong. At the same time, the members’ representatives are all good business people and give a lot of thought to the organization. So, they make the best attempt possible to right-size their commitments so that fluctuations in the price of oil will not adversely affect PSP’s overall goals. At the same time, PSP’s CEO and chairman have done a great job ensuring that PSP’s overhead stays low so that we can accomplish our goals without straining that commitment.
Lawbook: Do you think in-house counsel should make pro bono or public service work mandatory to their outside law firms, and should it be a key part of corporate legal departments’ hiring decision? Why or why not?
Thomas: I think most, if not all, of the outside firms we use have strong commitments to pro bono work already. I think every corporate legal department should be focused on hiring the most talented attorneys available. Generally, the most talented attorneys will have varied interests, including strong commitments to community service. So I think it is another indicator of an applicant’s talent and drive, rather than something that should be a check-the-box item in hiring.