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Attorney specializes in field rife with ‘flux’

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

When Rodger Kershner landed his first in-house position as an attorney in Detroit with American National Resources Co. that owned pipelines and utilities, energy law had hardly changed in 50 years, but the first energy crisis was beginning.

“In my interview with my future boss, I said I felt the job would get me in on the ground floor of something,” he says. “That was an understatement. Energy law has been in constant flux ever since.”

It was the start of long career in this field for Kershner, since 2003 an attorney with Howard & Howard in Royal Oak, where he focuses his practice on energy and corporate law.

He brought to the firm a quarter-century of experience at ANR and CMS Energy Corp., the owner of Consumers Energy, that once owned power projects and pipelines around the world.

“In-house legal positions are great in some ways – you get to know your client and your client’s business like a law firm lawyer rarely gets to do. You can rapidly build expertise and be on hand to witness the value of your work,” says Kershner, who served as senior vice president, general counsel and secretary of CMS.

“I’ll always value my accomplishments in building a law department there and the friends I made. But practicing law in a firm gives you a breadth of experiences you can never get in-house. Private practice also gives you almost daily major or minor wins and losses – trials, deals, clients – like you never experience in-house. All in all, I’m glad I was in-house for so many years, but I’m also glad that’s not all I’ve done.”

At Howard & Howard he has worked closely with colleague Jon Kreucher. In one case, the duo was asked to assist three farmers to decide whether to agree to the use of their farms as part of a wind farm development. The two suggested the farmers invite proposals from all potential developers and collaborate with nearby farms to negotiate terms.

“Eventually our group, comprising more than 80 farms, signed agreements with the country’s largest wind farm developer,” Kershner says. “We later learned we were the first such collective wind farm negotiation east of the Rockies.”

After first helping a client invest in wind energy in 1995, Kershner has since helped landowners, project developers, construction companies, and local governments interested in wind power. He advises clients on power plant development, construction and operation, and helps clients understand issues surrounding oil and gas as well as aspects of buying or selling energy projects.

He has supported businesses in 20 foreign countries and has expertise in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  In one dramatic case, a client received information that a partner in an overseas venture may have been paying bribes in possible violation of the FCPA.

“Crucial decisions needed to be made about the future of the venture within days. I was told to do what it took to investigate the claims and to do it fast,” he says. “In the course of roughly a single weekend, I traveled to Frankfort, Mannheim, London and Singapore and back to Detroit to interview witnesses and prepare a report.”
Vice Chair of both the Electricity Committee and the Renewable Energy Committee of the American Bar Association’s Public Utility, Communications and Transportation Law Section, and a member of the Section’s Council Group, Kershner foresees the demise of fossil fuels within the next 100 years.

“There’s no doubt in my mind, fossil fuels – which cause great harm to the planet both in their production and their use – will be unheard of,” he says.

According to Kershner, formerly a member of the Section Council of the Environmental Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan and chair of that section’s Energy Committee, the amount of energy the earth receives daily from the sun is many multiples of the energy needed by the entire population of earth; and it is found in many useful forms: heat, direct conversion into electricity, wind, hydroelectric generation power by the pull of gravity on water evaporated by the sun, and photosynthesis.

“The technologies needed to efficiently extract that energy and to store it for use in times and places where sunshine is lacking are developing very rapidly and will be enough to furnish all the energy we need long before 100 years are up,” he says.

Kershner predicts few changes in the next decade. “We’ll see the beginnings of a shift to renewable energy, but it will be slow because the economic advantages needed to cause people to insist on change will not yet be sufficiently compelling to overcome the political inertia brought about by those needing to protect their short -term economic interests.

“In 20 years I hope the inevitability of the new order will be obvious to everyone and people, corporations and governments will all be on the bandwagon.”

Kershner earned his undergrad degree in finance from Wayne State University, before earning his J.D., cum laude, from Detroit College of Law (now Michigan State University College of Law).

His part-time work during law school included sweeping up after hours at a furrier, teaching introductory computer science classes at Wayne State, and working at the Misdemeanor Defender’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, the Appellate Defender’s Office, The Supreme Court Administrator’s Office, and for one summer, at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

He enjoyed working as the chief judge’s law clerk at the Michigan Court of Appeals.“I think every clerk appreciates the opportunity to actually participate in seeing justice done,” he says. “The judges frequently take their clerk’s advice to heart and in the actual drafting of opinions, clerks can subtly shape the law. As the chief’s clerk, I got a good look at both the inner workings of the court and the relations between the branches of government – very valuable stuff later on.”

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