Alumna Hope Shelton, Class of 2018, Shares About Her Career and Opening Shelton Regulatory Consulting
Former student, Hope Shelton, took the time to share with the EENRSLP about her jump into the working world and how she came to open up Shelton Regulatory Consulting, LLC with her father. She also gave some of her best advice for law students and young lawyers.
What is Shelton Regulatory Consulting, LLC? What sort of work do you do?
Shelton Regulatory Consulting, LLC is primarily a natural gas pipeline safety consulting company. I expect to expand into other sectors of oil and gas safety and have even considered oil and gas policy work, but for right now, I focus on providing consulting services to natural gas pipeline operators.
The bulk of my services include preparing for and representing operators in pipeline safety audits conducted by the State and Federal agencies [PHMSA - Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration - is the federal agency, and the states where I do the most work in are regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, and New Mexico Pipeline Safety Bureau]. When you think of pipeline companies, you probably think of big companies like BP and Exxon, maybe even XTO or ETC. These larger operators have a compliance department that handles recordkeeping, reporting, and safety inspections. But there are many more smaller operators who may have a pipeline in connection with their primary business or they're just getting started owning and operating a pipeline, or their previously unregulated line became regulated because of a population change nearby. These small operators don't have the budget to hire a compliance person full-time, so they contract out that work to me. I prepare them for pipeline audits, and I represent them during the audit. I also provide the written programs/manuals that are required, perform annual filings, and provide general consulting advice on the regulations and how to comply.
How long have you operated Shelton Regulatory Consulting?
I have been in business for a year now. I opened this company with my dad in June/July 2019. Half of the clients have been using my dad's company for years for compliance services (think of surveys and maintenance) and used my dad informally for consulting. The other half are clients who have reached out because they were referred by either another client, consultant, or industry person.
Why did you branch out into consulting? What work did you do before you opened up Shelton regulatory Consulting?
Before we opened the business, I worked in Austin at the State Capitol working on policy as a staffer in a Senate Committee. When the Legislative Session ended, I made the choice to leave the policy world and start this company. As a staffer, I analyzed bills and the policy behind those bills. As a consultant, I analyze regulations and interpret the lawmakers' intent. The two jobs, on the surface, do not compliment the other, but the day-to-day work is very comparable. The skills I gained in the legislature greatly enhance my abilities as a consultant.
The consulting idea was not born in the months after Session and before I created the business. When I was accepted to A&M Law, my dad started putting the idea in my head and I worked in the compliance department at a pipeline company in Fort Worth my 1L summer. After Session ended, I finally felt prepared and confident enough to open the business in spite of the fear of the unknown.
What would you say to a student or young lawyer who is interested in branching out on their own?
It doesn't matter if you don't know everything. What matters is that you know the people to ask, and their willingness to help you.
You also need to be sure you know yourself first. If you thrive being around people, working with people, having someone set your schedule, and having someone to report to, I don't suggest going out on your own. You have to take responsibility for any and all mistakes, for work done and not done, for expenses, and for your education. It's incredibly rewarding, but it can also be scary at times.
What draws your clients to work with you?
The clients I work with are primarily small operators. The answer, I believe is, necessity. The regulations are complicated for a lay person to understand, and the inspections are intense, highly focused on the written programs and the language of those programs and can result in fines that are expensive.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of my job is helping my clients. Whether it be by solving a complicated regulation question or ending an audit with no violations. I enjoy knowing that I was able to help them using the skills I've learned in school and work. For me, when I graduated law school I didn't realize how much I had learned until I was helping clients every day using the skills I acquired in those three years.
What does work-life balance look like for you?
Being self-employed and working from home means I have to set boundaries for personal and work. I think many people now have an idea of what this is like after being required to work from home due to the Covid-19. I set boundaries for chores and personal time to occur only limited amounts during the day when I'm working, and I set boundaries for work to occur only limited amounts during the evenings or weekend. If I didn't set boundaries, it would be all too easy to work through my evenings and weekends without a break, but I know from law school that I can get burned out and my work will suffer.
Although I do have to point out that during "audit weeks" I generally have to work on the weekend prior to preparing for the audit and after hours during the week to both work on audit-related items and work on issues for other clients that arose while I was in an audit. Work-life balance is much more unhealthy during these weeks.
What advice would you like to give 2020 graduates?
Be there for your friends and find friends to be there for you. The bar exam isn't your last hurdle--it's just a hurdle. Once you take it and pass, you're still going to have big things happen that you need strength for. For some, it will come immediately when looking for a job and facing rejections. For others, it may come later when they're looking for a second job, having financial troubles, or getting divorced. You have to have friends to support you, and in turn, you have to be there to support your friends. It can be hard to stay in touch once everyone moves away and starts their life, but it's so important to do so.
What advice would you give a current law student?
Learn how to handle the stress now. Life isn't going to get less stressful as you get out of school. Right now, everything is structured with classes, reading lists, projects, and exams. When you leave school, all of that structure is gone, so you have to learn how to structure your life and work on your own. Basically, you have a lot of stress right now, but it's limited in duration. When you're out, that stress can feel neverending. So you really have to learn now how to handle it and not let it overtake you.