23 Apr 2019

Oil and Gas Title: What Is An Opinion Worth?

On occasion, I am asked by a potential client seeking oil and gas title opinions or due diligence or related legal services about my experience and education, as well as that of the attorneys and staff who work for my firm, the Claire Sergent Walls Legal Group. Surprisingly, this question does not come up as often as it should.

More often, I find myself providing only potential cost estimates that are communicated through extensive bid sheets, project estimates based upon state, county and district or township and the numbers of acres or years to be covered by the search. These bid sheets and project estimates, while necessary, rarely (if ever) request information about the education, training and experience of the personnel who will be providing legal services in the form of mineral title opinions or due diligence projects. I understand the economics of mineral development, but I also know the importance of accuracy, timeliness and reliability of the attorney, law firm or legal team charged with providing due diligence reports or title opinions to the end user (the exploration and production company). Given the stressful, unpleasant, disastrous and COSTLY results that can occur when due diligence and title projects provide inaccurate information, are disorganized, or are submitted beyond the deadline, I wonder “Why is price often the only (or primary) criteria for an oil and gas title project?

Primary price comparison for non-service-related, tangible items, such as computers, office paper and software that one can price compare to similar items in the market is smart. Some even see it as a challenge to “get the best price” and “get something for less.” Keeping costs and budgets in line with projections is a necessity when running any project or business, and there is certainly no down side to getting the best price on office supplies.

But pricing out legal due diligence and title opinion projects does not lend itself to the strict price comparison model because of the intangible qualities inherent to legal services in general, and oil and gas title specifically. As discussed, the pricing discussion begins long before any title work is started, as if all titles and title attorneys and law firms are created equal. The collective knowledge, experience and abilities of the multi-disciplinary team of attorneys, title abstractors and support staff who will be performing the courthouse research, analyzing the results, and properly interpreting the facts and law in order to provide an accurate status of title and assembling it into a well-organized and easy to navigate report comprise the intangible value that is being purchased by the client. Other intangibles that are very much appreciated by such clients are responsiveness and timely submission of work product (a.k.a., the things that make the project go smoothly and the boss happy!). How can a potential client learn about the history of these intangibles with a given attorney or law firm without inquiring, requesting resumes, references, or by interviewing the attorney or attorneys to be potentially engaged?

When you hire our firm, you paying for: our substantive knowledge of the law, gained through years of experience in analyzing and interpreting the law; our practical skills in knowing how to efficiently manage and perform challenging oil and gas title and due diligence projects gained over many years by producing large volumes of work, our dedication to performing everything we do to the highest possible standard, our professionalism and courtesy, and our continuing education so that we may always be on top of changes to the law.

You may save a bit of money by focusing on price comparison, but, in the end, you may not get what you truly need.

Claire Sergent Walls, Esq.


Claire Sergent Walls Esq.