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Law Change Forces Alum to Switch Focus

David Moynihan

Boston is not a city that immediately comes to mind when considering a career in the U.S. oil and gas industry.

However, that did not deter David Moynihan’s father from developing a very successful law practice in that city forming limited partnerships for oil exploration in Texas.

While at college, Moynihan ‘83 would assist his father on weekends preparing partnership updates.

“I found the process of pooling investors, negotiating mineral rights leases coupled with oil exploration, drilling, and delivery an interesting combination of business and law,” explains Moynihan. “To top it off, hardly anyone in the Boston metropolitan area was doing it, let alone knew anything about it, and in that sense, we were doing something unique and specialized in the local legal market.”

When it came to choosing a law school, Moynihan naturally gravitated toward California Western because it offered courses in oil and gas law. “It was a logical choice,” he recalls.

Three years after graduating, Moynihan’s dream of a legal career in the oil and gas industry went up in smoke! “In 1986, Congress passed a sweeping overhaul of the tax code, and with the stroke of the pen the main tax benefit of the oil and gas limited partnerships was effectively eliminated,” he explains. “Almost overnight the formation of limited partnerships, drilling and the like ended. Dependency on the importation of oil and gas became the new normal.”

Not one to be disheartened, Moynihan switched his focus to real estate—in particular, real estate development. “I knew this would be very much like forming oil and gas partnerships—pooling investors, negotiating purchase agreements, zoning matters, financing, and construction,” he says.

Within a year or so after the tax code amendment, Moynihan went in-house with a small developer building condominiums and residential subdivisions. He enjoyed it so much he asked to be a part-time assistant project manager for a few months so he could learn how houses are built. “It is certainly a good offense when you can put opposing counsel on defense by asking them if they ever managed the construction of dozens of homes and condos,” he reveals.

Through the years, Moynihan expanded his real estate experience working mostly in-house as general counsel. His career choices enabled him to gain not only practical knowledge but also develop some interesting relationships. A notable example was a 10-year stint with one of Boston’s largest commercial landlords, Cummings Properties.

“The founder, Bill Cummings, went on to become a billionaire, and has donated nearly all of it to a charitable foundation set up while I worked there,” he explains.

Moynihan credits California Western’s Prof. Scott Ehrlich as a significant influence in his focus on real estate. “He was extremely approachable and always ready to spend extra time to discuss cases,” he says.

The large number of electives focusing on practical legal issues, offered by California Western, proved to be very influential in guiding Moynihan in his career choice and his advice to current CWSL students reflects this.

“When picking an elective, focus on subjects that have immediate, practical application to clients,” he says. “An abstract elective that is not adaptable to the typical client may be interesting, but it won’t necessarily prepare you for life after school.”

Moynihan, who has practiced in McLane Middleton’s Real Estate, Corporate and Construction Law Groups in Woburn, Mass. for more than 10 years has one more piece of advice for aspiring law graduates.

“When you join a firm, be sure to ask for a mentor if the firm does not automatically assign you one.” From time to time he says, ask him or her if you can go over documents or cases so you can better understand the practical side to matters.

“The insight you gain will be invaluable.”

Founded in 1919, McLane Middleton, Professional Association is one of New England’s premier full-service law firms with offices in Manchester, Concord and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Woburn and Boston, Massachusetts. With over 105 attorneys and 25 paralegals, McLane Middleton has built collaborative and lasting relationships with a broad spectrum of domestic and international clients.