Monika Ehrman is the Charles J. and Inez Wright Murray Distinguished Visiting Professor at SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas. She accepted an offer to join the SMU faculty in fall 2023 as Professor of Law. Prior to joining SMU, she was Associate Professor at the University of North Texas at Dallas and Professor and Faculty Director of the Oil and Gas, Natural Resources and Energy Center at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. She researches and teaches natural resources law, property, and energy and environmental law. She is a recipient of a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to study the clean energy transition in oil and gas producing tribes, and she is an awardee of the Foundation for Natural Resources and Energy Law’s (formerly the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation) Clyde O. Martz Teaching Award, recognizing her as a lifelong contributor to teaching natural resources law. Previously, Monika was an Associate in Locke Lord’s Dallas office.
Why did you choose Locke Lord?
I went to work for Locke Lord because of Dallas’ Mike Powell and Rob Beatty, who is now retired. I was so excited to work with these national leaders in energy litigation, in addition to all the talented and friendly attorneys in the Firm’s litigation and energy practices. As soon as I received an interview from the Firm, I informed my oil and gas law professor, the great John Lowe at SMU Dedman School of Law. He was thrilled, too. Locke Lord — then Locke Liddell & Sapp — had (and still has!) a marvelous reputation in the Dallas and Texas community. I learned that he later spoke to David Patton, Mike and Rob, recommending the Firm hire me. I benefited from the support of so many during my time at the Firm and still enjoy those friendships.
What spurred you to pursue a career as a law professor, and how did your time at Locke Lord prepare you for the role?
I was working at the Firm and loving everything I did — my colleagues were great, and the work was intellectually challenging. But every year, Professor Lowe would invite me to guest lecture at SMU, and he would urge me to consider pursuing academia. One year, after I had left the Firm and was in-house, I finally listened to him!
All of my practice work is completely relevant to my job as a professor. The American Bar Association and Association of American Law Schools have recently focused on experiential learning to ensure students graduate with practice-ready skills, in addition to doctrinal foundations. So it is helpful for professors to have practical skills and experiences they can impart to their students. I’ve taught transactional energy drafting, remedies and negotiations, something that many law graduates learn only in practice. It benefits our students and their employers to incorporate both theory and practice readiness in the law school curriculum. In particular, my litigation experience has been useful to teaching cases. I try to infuse practice into the doctrine, which gives some meaning to the method and an understanding of why you might argue a certain way; how a particular strategy may be helpful and how to resolve cases successfully from litigation and transactional perspectives.
Wha do you enjoy most about teaching?
The best part is the students — I can’t tell you what a privilege it is to teach. I also love the research, which is a big component of being a full-time professor. In the fields I study — natural resources, property, energy and environment — there are such amazing questions to consider. Currently, one of my primary research areas involves examining the relationship of natural resources in the context of science, law and ownership. This examination includes both theory-based abstract concepts and also the practicality of understanding how to shape law and policy.
What accomplishments are you most proud of throughout your career?
I’m extremely proud to join SMU. My faculty colleagues are brilliant and so kind. I’m also proud to have graduated from SMU Law, which is one of the best law schools in the country. I owe so much of my professional success to the legal foundation and support I received at SMU. I had amazing professors, like John Lowe and Xuan-Thao Nguyen (now at the University of Washington School of Law), who cared about my career and who encouraged me to become an academic. Another accomplishment I’m proud of is being Principal Investigator of a grant from the Sloan Foundation to empower the decision-making ability of oil and gas producing Tribal Nations as they transition to clean energy. I’m working with a phenomenal, multidisciplinary team on an issue that has the potential to afford great change to Tribes and their communities.
You were previously honored with the Foundation for Natural Resources and Energy Law’s Clyde O. Martz Teaching Award. What does this award mean to you?
Clyde O. Martz is considered the founder of modern natural resources law, combining the previously discrete subjects of water, mining, oil and gas law and public lands. It is such an honor to be recognized, particularly after more than 15 years of involvement with the Foundation, which is a phenomenal educational organization advancing law, policy and regulation that relates to natural resources. One of the people most responsible for my involvement is Locke Lord Partner David Patton, Chair Emeritus of the Firm’s Energy Practice Group. He is such a pillar within the Foundation and was extremely supportive in promoting my efforts to get involved.
What is your best advice to students starting out in the legal profession — particularly those interested in exploring energy law?
Work hard, be curious about why things are the way they are and question if there are ways to do things better. But to do that, first you have to learn to do things well. There is no shortcut to excellence with respect to client representation.
How we behave is equally important — having high standards of professionalism and treating everyone respectfully, whether they are opposing parties or the people you work with. That’s something I learned from everyone at Locke Lord.
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