Landman vs. Attorney
Natural rivalries are common. Dogs and cats are considered common foes even though many dogs and cats get along just fine. The Soviets and Chinese are traditional enemies yet they often cooperate.
So too the oil and gas attorney and the landman. Probably because of the nature of the roles, they are commonly pitted against each other. In fact, in the field, it is more the rule than the exception, to her the landman criticize the attorney and the attorney scorn the landman. It is quite common to hear the landman declare that attorneys don’t understand gas leases and fail to recognize what is in the best interest of their client. Conversely, gas and oil attorneys often belittle landmen, accusing them of ignoring legitimate legal issues and concerns just to get a lease signed. Thus, the common assertions that the landman is an “idiot” and the attorney is a “jerk”.
What is often missed in the rivalry is the “middleman”. He or she is the landowner/client, hoping that what is told them by the landman is accurate but fearful of not following his or her attorney’s advice.
“Landman” is a broad term given to the lease acquisition and abstractors specifically dedicated to the “land services” sector of the oil and gas industry. Most often they work on a contract basis for “land services brokers”. They tend to be transient in nature and to quickly subject to stereotypes which, like most stereotypes, contain elements of fact and fiction.
One landman confessed that “landmen are a cross between librarian and used car salesman.” They have gained a reputation of being shysters. Although, as in any profession, some are, I believe it is the misconception of what they do that spawns these sentiments.
That being said, it is important to understand that many of them don't have specific legal training and that is the catalyst for the disconnect between attorneys and landmen. This became apparent to me as a landmen when working with other landmen and certain legal concepts I would try to explain, but I realized that their lack of understanding did not come from a lack of intellect or interest in the subject, but a lack of legal training and framework to understand what I was saying; some examples would be: 1.) “fee simple”/”fee simple determinable,” 2.) “difference between “trustees” and “executors,” 3.) not understanding devises or bequeaths server devises and basic estate concepts.
This is not to say that some landmen, often the experienced ones who have worked with attorneys for years, have a good understanding of basic legal concepts.
The flip side is that a landman will see through an attorney who does not have oil and gas experience or understanding and holds themselves out as such very quickly. I contend that this is the reason many landmen have a less than respectful view of lawyers in our commonwealth. The landman may not understand the origin of various legal concepts, but because they work with title issues and oil and gas leases on a daily basis it is clear to them the moment an attorney they are dealing with has no idea. An example of this would be when I was presenting a lease to a landowner who had a very small parcel of land. The lease contained the most favorable (to the landowner) non-surface clause the company could grant. The landowner purportedly spoke with an attorney who advised them that the clause would still allow for pipelines on their property because “pipelines are under the surface.” Another reason for landman distrust is lack of timeliness. Landmen observe that at times it takes as long as months for landowner attorneys to address their lease questions. Another tell tail sign is when a landman gets an addendum request from an attorney with the same “word-for-word” requests that all other attorneys in the area got at a seminar. When the landman discusses certain of those addenda and shows the attorney that the issue is covered in “x,y,z” manor and the attorney does not have a clue what he is talking about is just caused to be suspect of attorneys and is something that we need to be well aware of when dealing with this industry. Another scenario landmen see are situations where it is clear to them that it is in a given landowners’ bet interest to lease but their legal counsel is stuck on a particular pet peeve and as a result the landowner may be cut out of a unit. on and what is really in the best interest of that landowner many times when
As an attorney who has done landman work, it was a little disheartening, if not hurtful on a professional level, at first, when I realized the perception of lawyers amongst landmen. Then, I had to ask myself, isn’t the feeling/perception mutual? It is important for Pennsylvania oil and gas attorneys to work towards changing this perception as much as is possible. And it is in hope that in so doing, we will better understand what and who the landman is and better be able to represent landowner clients in dealing with the elusive “Landman.” In the end rather than name calling between the two professions, I would like to see the landman realize the attorney has his job to do and visa versa.