Frank A. Hunold Jr., the first general counsel and the only in-house lawyer for Reliant Holdings Ltd., says he can envision a future in which he needs another in-house lawyer. But for now, he handles the work by multitasking.
There are plenty of tasks to juggle: Reliant Holdings is a family-owned carbon dioxide producer and distributor with 220 workers and eight subsidiaries operating in 13 states.
“I’m basically a one-man band here,” says Hunold. “It takes a lot of organization, but I’m a real organized person. I’m one of those guys, if you walk in my office, everything is perfectly neat and tidy.”
Hunold became Midland-based Reliant Holdings’ general counsel in 2006. “What I think I’ve been able to do is affect a change in the way of thinking to make our managers more aware of the legal ramifications of what we’re doing,” he says.
Reliant president Scott Vanderburg says Hunold has become a key part of the company’s strategic team and he “will tell you exactly what his thoughts are” while trying to influence decision-making to benefit the company.
“There’s been multiple times where different aspects of the family part of the business create different drivers, and Frank in each instance has been able to go back to what the true business drivers should be. At the end of the day, that’s [in] the best interest of the company and family as well,” says Vanderburg.
Hunold earned two undergraduate degrees in economics and political science from Rice University in Houston in 1976. He earned his J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center in 1979.
From 1980 to 1983 he was an in-house attorney at Geosource Inc., an oil-and-gas company. He then joined Culton, Morgan, Britain & White in Amarillo as an associate from 1983 to 1987, practicing business litigation and oil and gas law. From 1987 to 1995, Hunold was a shareholder in and director of Griggs & Harrison in Houston. He operated a Houston solo practice from 1995 to 1999, when his career took an interesting turn.
Hunold and his wife co-founded a company in Midland, Bridesave.com, selling bridal apparel and supplies. Hunold closed his solo practice to become general counsel there in 1999.
When Bridesave.com closed in 2006, Hunold says he put out feelers in the Midland legal community. One attorney responded and told him, ” ‘We don’t have a place for you at the law firm, but we have a client we think could really benefit from having an in-house counsel,’ ” says Hunold, about how he came to Reliant Holdings.
The company operates eight subsidiaries and is affiliated with Reliant Exploration and Production, which drills for and extracts CO2 in New Mexico.
Because each subsidiary is a separate corporate entity, Hunold says he’s “pretty aggressive” about keeping up with corporate-governance legal requirements including gaining the proper legal consent for major business decisions from Reliant Holdings’ family owners.
Hunold also ensures that all the Reliant Holdings companies remain in compliance with regulations governing transportation, worker safety, hazardous materials, the environment, and oil and gas drilling.
A Reliant Holdings subsidiary transports CO2 in liquid form on 18-wheeler trucks, so it complies with state and federal regulations affecting driver licensing and training, vehicle maintenance and signage, and more. One Reliant Holdings subsidiary operates eight CO2 processing plants that undergo normal worker-safety inspections by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.
CO2 is considered a hazardous material because breathing the gas in an enclosed space can be lethal, explains Hunold. Reliant Holdings’ companies follow regulations on handling CO2, documenting its whereabouts and labeling vehicles and products.
Hunold also stays abreast of environmental regulations because two Reliant Holdings-affiliated processing plants extract CO2 from the waste byproducts of ethanol-producing facilities in Colorado and Arizona.
“It either goes to us, or into the air,” says Hunold about the CO2 — a greenhouse gas — noting, “We’re taking it and using it for practical applications.”
Reliant Exploration and Production’s CO2 drilling site in New Mexico must follow the state’s regulations on extracting the gas, protecting the environment, disposing of waste, transporting the product and more.
Hunold also spends time working with Reliant Holdings’ human resources manager on employment matters; drafting and negotiating contracts; and managing outside counsel representing the company in tort litigation, mergers and acquisitions, and other complex financial transactions.
Bradley Bains, a shareholder in Cotton Bledsoe Tighe & Dawson in Midland, says he has worked with Hunold while representing Reliant in personal-injury and commercial litigation.
“He’s very courteous, he’s professional, he’s on time,” Bains says, adding, “You have some clients you work with that it’s good work and quality work. But with Frank, I enjoy working with him — it’s fun. . . .”
Best Practices: “Network, Network, Network”
Frank A. Hunold Jr., general counsel of Reliant Holdings Ltd. in Midland, has come full circle in his career. He worked in-house at a Houston oil and gas company, then spent 16 years in private practice. Now back in-house as Reliant Holdings’ first general counsel, Hunold says he’s proud he has been able to affect the company culture at Reliant, a carbon dioxide processor and distributor.
Texas Lawyer reporter Angela Morris emailed Hunold some questions about his work experience, his role as Reliant Holdings’ GC and his use of outside counsel. Here are his answers, edited for length and style.
Texas Lawyer: What skills from your past work experience are most valuable in your job today, and why?
Frank A. Hunold Jr., general counsel, Reliant Holdings Ltd., Midland: My skills as a litigator allow me to directly participate with outside litigation counsel in preparing for trial and devising litigation strategy. They are also valuable in identifying and implementing litigation avoidance policies and procedures within the company.
TL: What do you see as the most important role that you play as general counsel at Reliant Holdings, and why?
Hunold: Protecting the company’s interests in all phases of operations and assuring that the company is in compliance with the myriad laws governing our operations.
TL: For what types of matters do you hire outside counsel?
Hunold: Litigation and larger, complex transactions in foreign jurisdictions. For example, we recently hired outside counsel to assist in the acquisition of the assets of a California dry ice distribution company.
TL: How do you typically go about searching for a new outside lawyer you haven’t worked with before?
Hunold: I always go to my network of attorneys first for representation and — if they are not able due to conflicts or because it involves an area outside their expertise — for a referral. My network primarily includes outside counsel I have worked with before, friends from law school and attorneys I have come to know well throughout my career.
TL: What’s your best advice for a lawyer who is looking to work with any corporation as outside counsel?
Hunold: First, become an expert at what you do. Second, network, network, network. Corporations tend to hire outside counsel with excellent reputations they know and trust.
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