Reed Smith partner Regina Speed-Bost is fulfilling a decades long dream of opening her own shop in Washington, D.C.
The Big Law veteran and diversity advocate officially left the firm earlier this summer to launch SB Law, which aims to initially provide regulatory advice for companies in the energy space.
The wheels were in motion prior to the pandemic and protests following the murder of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota. Still, the changing social landscape of the country has given her a clear objective to make a change in the legal industry. It also creates an opportunity, despite the economic crisis, as companies make diversity a focal point in hiring outside counsel.
“While Big Law is still addressing the issue of minority representation and how to both attract and retain and lead to a path of success for lawyers of color, companies are willing to provide support directly to attorneys of color and so I’m happy to provide a home for some of us as time progresses,” she added.
Speed-Bost says she had been thinking about launching her own shop for nearly a decade. She finally decided to move forward earlier this summer after nearly three years at Reed Smith.
She advises clients in the energy and natural resources sector including natural gas companies, local distribution companies, and electric utilities on a variety of matters related to energy administrative and regulatory law.
Speed-Bost began her career at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission some 30 years ago. She was the legal adviser for natural gas and oil pipeline matters to former FERC commissioner William Massey, now senior counsel at Covington & Burling.
Speed-Bost also made stops at Duane Morris; Verner Liipfert Bernhard McPherson and Hand; Sullivan & Worcester; and Schiff Hardin, where she chaired the firm’s energy practice before jumping to Reed Smith in 2017.
A dozen or so smaller, boutique firms did a considerable amount of work in the FERC space when she started, Speed-Bost said. Big Law started taking a liking to the regulatory work and those boutique practices became a part of larger firms following the early 2000s energy crisis.
There has been somewhat of a resurgence in of boutique work in the regulatory space over the past few years, she said, noting yearly automatic rate increases at Big Law firms and conflicts are some of the reasons clients might turn to smaller firms.
Though her firm is set up based on her FERC practice and experience, Speed-Bost expects to bring on partners, counsel and associates in a variety of spaces, including government contracting and labor and employment and other areas where companies have expressed that a smaller platform might be beneficial.
The new practice also gives Speed-Bost the chance to provide opportunities for women and lawyers of color “who might find or might have a reason to explore something other than Big Law,” she said.
“When you look at Big Law, when you look at the legal profession as a whole the numbers of attorneys of color are abysmal,” Speed-Bost said, who has worked on diversity committees at most, if not all of the firms she’s been at.
People of color made up about 25% of associates but made up less than 8% of equity partners among all firms who participated in a 2019 survey by the National Association for Law Placement. Black attorneys accounted for less than 2% of partners among the firms surveyed by NALP, while Black women made up less than 1%.
It’s not because there aren’t people of color in law schools, Speed-Bost said. In looking at her own career, she sees the problem with tracking gains for attorneys of color.
“What you have is one individual who is getting counted at several different places, but the number doesn’t change,” Speed-Bost said. “If I move from one firm to another that’s not a gain for the industry, for the profession, that’s a gain for that particular firm.”
Speed-Bost said she had some angst about leaving Big Law as her move to her own shop “takes me out of that count,” she said. “But then I have to ask, ‘Well, maybe I can have more of an impact from the outside than I can on the inside.’”