Vice President and General Counsel of Operating Utilities
David Abernathy knows that someday, someone must replace him as general counsel of operating utilities at Spire. That’s one of the reasons he wants the five or so attorneys he supervises to have a varied mix of responsibilities, from regulatory and labor issues to litigation, government lobbying and tax work.
“We try to diversify everybody’s workload so people can broaden their horizons and have space to run,” said Abernathy.
Abernathy is used to having that kind of portfolio. After earning his J.D. from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1986, he went to Evans & Dixon in St. Louis, then landed at what then was called the St. Louis County Water Company, later renamed Missouri American Water Company. At that utility, Abernathy worked in many of the areas he handles now, plus real estate, mergers and acquisitions, and environmental and insurance law.
“When I went in-house, I wasn’t sure I’d stay there forever,” he recalled. “But after two or three years, it was very enjoyable, and one reason was the variety of work I got to do. It was fun.”
After 16 years at Missouri American Water, he departed in 2004 for what was then Laclede Gas Company. At Laclede, he served at first as vice president and associate general counsel for industrial relations & claims management. Laclede was rebranded as Spire in 2016, and Abernathy is now the general counsel of Spire Missouri, Spire Alabama, Spire Mississippi and Spire Gulf.
In addition, Abernathy manages Spire’s captive insurance company, Laclede Insurance Risk Services. In that role, he handles litigation and claims, ensures proper coverage and makes required visits to different brokers and underwriters — which is not necessarily drudgery.
“One of the perks is I get to go to Bermuda every year to buy insurance,” Abernathy joked. “They’re quick trips, but it is pleasant to look at the palm trees and ocean for a few days.”
Back at the office in St. Louis, many of his duties touch on regulatory issues. The company currently is a party in four cases involving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. As Abernathy explains it, Spire must buy gas on the market; the pipelines that sell the gas must set rates; Spire protests if it believes the rates are unreasonably high. Abernathy is the attorney of record on two of these cases.
Other areas that Abernathy and his colleagues handle in-house include contract work, labor arbitration, employment cases involving the state-level Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, and the franchising of cities and municipalities.
Finally, Abernathy considers a big part of his job is to supervise and develop the attorneys in his office. So is he ready for one of them to assume his role?
“I’m feeling pretty spry,” said Abernathy, who with his wife has four children either in college or already graduated; two live in Kansas City, one lives in Mississippi and another lives in Arizona.
“I’m 57, but I’m feeling like I’m 40. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t do it,” he said. “I do travel a lot and I’m busy, but I don’t think I’d want it any other way.”
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