“For the first half of my career, I moved around a lot, and then I found a home at PNM in 1991,” says Patrick T. Ortiz, senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary of the multibillion-dollar energy holding company. At the Albuquerque, N.M.,-based corporation, Ortiz is responsible for overseeing company-wide legal services, corporate governance matters, and ethics and compliance. On occasion, for some of the company’s more complicated cases, Ortiz is asked to litigate. Writing briefs and making oral arguments rank among his favorite pursuits.
Ortiz has practiced in the regulated industry world ever since graduating from Georgetown University Law Center. “As I’ve advanced in my career, I’ve learned a lot about different industries, particularly utilities and communications,” he says. “Because energy is one of the great issues of the day, the utility industry is perhaps more challenging than ever before.
“Cost, finding the right supply source to serve customers, competing for traditional resources in light of environmental problems, predicting the future of alternative resources—these are all important concerns for us,” Ortiz explains. “Another pressing matter is convincing the public and the commission that rates need to be raised. We understand the benefits of low rates—ours are among the lowest in the country and we’d like to keep it that way—but costs are rising.”
Early in his career, Ortiz served on the New Mexico Public Service Commission. Although he concedes that making policy is very interesting, he really wanted to be an attorney again. So after a year, he accepted a position with U S WEST Communications, eventually becoming chief counsel in New Mexico.
In the late 1980s, PNM’s then-CEO was looking for a general counsel to create the company’s first in-house legal department. At the time, Ortiz had risen as high as he could at U S WEST without relocating (which familial obligations prevented), and he was open to exploring alternative local career opportunities. He was contacted by a national search firm to see if he was interested. “Here was the chance to stay in New Mexico and advance at the state’s largest utility, so I gave it a try,” says Ortiz. Building PNM’s law department from the ground was definitely a challenge, but a challenge he relished. In 2001, he became general counsel and secretary to PNM’s newly formed energy holding company, PNM Resources, Inc. Through its utilities (PNM and Texas-New Mexico Power Company [TNMP]) and energy subsidiary (First Choice Power), PNM Resources provides electricity to 835,000 homes and businesses in New Mexico and Texas, and natural gas to 490,000 customers in New Mexico.
As a law student, Ortiz never envisioned himself doing what he does now. “I wanted to get into a law firm and do general civil practice. The idea of regulated industries struck me as incredibly boring,” he remembers. “When I finished law school, an early mentor, New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Patricio Serna, strongly advised me to take a job as law clerk at the Public Service Commission. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but because I respected Serna’s judgment so much I followed his advice. Soon after I passed the bar and was promoted to staff attorney. I stayed on for three years, and surprisingly, ended up liking regulated industries so much that I’ve made them my career.
“I’ve been given a lot of good advice throughout my career,” reflects Ortiz. “And thankfully, I’ve had sense enough to take it.” DB
From the September/October 2008 issue of Diversity & The Bar®