Oil in His Blood

James C.T. Hardwick works with the stuff that moves the world

Published in 2007 Oklahoma Super Lawyers — November 2007

After 40 years, James C.T. Hardwick still finds his work fascinating—but he knows there aren’t many who feel the same way. 

“I have to admit I haven’t worked on anything as exciting or controversial as Roe v. Wade,” he says. “Most of the cases I’ve worked on have been fun and mentally challenging to me, but they wouldn’t make a very good movie of the week. My son is a lawyer and when he hears me talk about what I do he thinks that it’s the dullest thing in the world. But I like it because that’s my makeup. I guess I’m perfectly suited to the job. Not all that many people are.” 

Hardwick, 69, shareholder and director of the Tulsa law firm of Hall, Estill, Hardwick, Gable, Golden & Nelson, is one of Oklahoma’s pre-eminent oil and gas attorneys. He clearly has oil in his blood: In the mid-1930s, his father moved west to Oklahoma to work for Phillips Petroleum. Then, when Hardwick studied at the University of Oklahoma, he earned an undergraduate degree in petroleum engineering, immediately followed by a juris doctor at the University of Oklahoma College
of Law. His first job was in the legal department of Sun Oil. 

Hardwick explains it like this: In Tulsa, the oil and gas industry is the big game in town. “I’m guessing it’s like the dairy industry in Wisconsin,” he says with a laugh. “It’s the major industry. Oil and gas have always been here, and luckily for me, I’ve always had an interest in it.” 

That interest has paid off. Hardwick is respected by his colleagues for the depth and breadth of his knowledge of the petroleum industry, but, as a modest man who doesn’t like to draw a lot of attention, he’s not all that comfortable talking about his accomplishments. 

He will say, however, that much of his time these days is taken up assisting U.S. firms involved in the production, marketing and transportation of natural gas. “In this industry, the big issues are all pipeline-related,” Hardwick explains. “You have to have a pipe to put the stuff in because you’ve got to move [it] from place to place. You’ve got to build the pipelines, but people don’t always like pipelines moving through their back yards.” 

This year, when Hardwick passed his 40th anniversary at his firm, he tried to downplay the milestone. “We noted it here,” he grudgingly admits, “but I don’t like to put markers on things. I don’t like to make a big deal out of it. It’s just a number, after all.” 

Then, perhaps fearing he sounds like a curmudgeon, Hardwick adds: 

“I think your work product and what your clients think of your work is what’s important, not some number. You shouldn’t have to say that much about yourself. Your accomplishments should speak for you. You don’t need a big party.” 

For Hardwick, most days the best party is the work itself. “I really enjoy what I do,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun because of the broad scope and different kinds of issues you can be involved in representing oil industry clients.” 

But work, “is not the only fun I have,” Hardwick hastens to add. He also loves to study military and European history, learn languages and travel. He has been to Europe more than a dozen times. 

“Until you study their language, you really don’t have an insight into different cultures,” Hardwick says. He speaks enough French, German, and Italian to get by on his overseas adventures. Another side interest is studying the culture and history of the Mideast. “Lately I’ve been trying to read up about what’s been going on over there for the last 2,000 years,” he says. 

As the half-century mark approaches, Hardwick doesn’t see retirement on the horizon. “I’m still having fun at work,” he says. “I enjoy it. One of my friends who’s an oil and gas professor had seen a lot of his colleagues retire. He said to me, ‘If I retired, what would I do? I’d want to do something fun. What’s fun me for is what I’m doing.’ I feel the same way. What I do is challenging. I have hobbies, but for me the challenge of my practice is still stimulating and fun.”  

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