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Perspectives: David Bone

‘I’m working in an area where projects not only provide employment but also help our environment and make a difference to our lives.’ David Bone, senior partner in renewable energy at Harper Macleod, opens up about his 30-year career in renewable energy

What made you decide to become a lawyer and, once you’d made that decision, why energy?

I decided to become a lawyer in my early teens, through watching courtroom dramas on TV. As it turned out, however, I have only appeared in court once and that was sitting on the bench (another story!). Becoming a renewable energy lawyer was somewhat fortuitous. I had been doing fairly high-value commercial property work for a number of years, and a developer who had worked on early wind farms in Cornwall and Wales wanted to try and develop the first ones in Scotland. He asked his English lawyer who to use and they recommended a large Scottish law firm. After a short period, the developer decided that firm wasn’t showing enough interest in his work so turned to someone in Scotland he had done a joint venture with and asked him. I was that company’s lawyer and I was recommended. The developer made an appointment, came into my office and asked (this was 1993) if I knew anything about wind farms. Being honest, I said no. He then asked if I would be interested in learning, and I said it sounded fascinating. The rest is history and 30 years on I am still learning!

What have been your career highlights?

Each time a renewable energy development on which I have worked is completed and becomes operational I feel proud and I have been lucky enough to be involved in 87 to date (and counting!). I’m also proud to have led the Harper Macleod team to Energy Team of the Year at the Scottish Legal Awards in each of 2011, 2013 and 2016 and being ranked as a leading lawyer in renewable energy in the Legal 500 for the last eight years.

What has been the biggest achievement of your career to date?

In a 40-year career I have inevitably faced many challenges, including serving two spells as managing partner and one as senior partner, starting a renewable energy practice from scratch and being involved in numerous complex multimillion-pound transactions. But one thing I remember is being asked a question by a client as a trainee solicitor and giving an answer (which turned out to be correct) with hesitation and saying I would like to check that. The clients said, somewhat sarcastically: ‘Why don’t you go and ask a lawyer?’. I never forgot that and vowed to be prepared for anything that might come my way in the future.

What has been your biggest professional challenge and what did you learn from it?

The biggest change has been the growth in renewable energy work; the number of companies operating in that field and the number of people employed. When I helped found the Scottish Renewables Forum in 2000 there were initially 12 of us but we grew it to over 300 members, becoming the leading trade body for the renewables sector in Scotland. And a recent survey showed that the Scottish renewable energy industry and its supply chain supported more than 42,000 jobs and generated over £10bn of output in 2021. That has undoubtedly been a change for the better.

Would you recommend a life in energy law to your younger self and why?

Definitely. You are working in an area where projects not only provide employment but also help our environment and hopefully make a difference to our lives as we fight to combat climate change.

What advice would you give to those who want to get to where you have?

Opportunities will come to you in life; the difference between successful people and others often comes from making the right decisions when those opportunities arise. I made the right decision when the opportunity arose to become involved in renewable energy work. But I also then backed up my decision by committing to it (I passed my commercial property work to other colleagues) and capitalising on it by immersing myself in the industry, going to all the events (often as the only lawyer in attendance in the 1990s and early 2000s) and picking up lots of clients because they saw me as someone who was genuinely interested in what they were doing and wanted to help them.

What do you think is the most important change that needs to happen in energy law?

It’s not so much energy law as energy policy. The UK government needs to recognise that the need for and use of energy is one of the main forces affecting our lives and accord it that level of importance. The way we live and work is intrinsically linked to our access to energy and, in turn, the type of energy we access impacts our environment. Since the Department of Energy was first established in 1974, the number of changes of departmental name and the number of politicians who have been responsible for energy is staggering – no wonder there has been so little continuity, consistency of approach, or long-term planning.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing your clients right now?

Lack of consistency in energy policy, lack of investment in grid infrastructure, planning decisions taking too long and rising costs.

And finally – what was your favourite childhood book and why?

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. It was the first book I remember my dad reading to me.

David Bone is a senior partner at Harper Macleod.