Careers in Legislative Affairs

Vol. 16 No. 6

By

Kevin M. Hull is founding principal of Hull Partners, Ltd. in Chicago, IL.

In the 12 years since I was an assistant counsel to the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, I have been continually amazed that more practitioners don't include the legislative-analysis arrow in the quiver of skills they provide in their practices. Changes to legislation at the federal, state, and local levels affect your clients. The accomplished attorney who follows legislation and offers options through legislation ensures every avenue of advocacy is considered for his or her clients.

Job Opportunities in the Legislature

Once you enter the legislative arena, you'll find a wide range of staff positions for both entry-level and lateral attorneys. It's best to review these by level of government.

Federal

Most advice for positions in and around Capitol Hill centers on moving to Washington, D.C., to be as current as possible on available staff positions. Opportunities include working for a member of Congress as a "legislative aide," usually assigned to tracking specific Executive Branch agencies (e.g., Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs). Another option is to serve as a staff attorney to a standing committee or subcommittee. Other positions include working for individual federal agencies as an analyst or in the office of regional counsel in cities throughout the nation. Some recent graduates find employment in advocacy groups or so-called "think tanks" to position themselves within the Beltway for a federal position. Note that these positions are not only difficult to secure but also take a prolonged period of time from initial application through your first day on the job.

Resources:

Senate positions

House of Representatives positions

Federal agency positions

State

State government is a very attractive option because it presents opportunities to work on a wide range of subject matter while also providing experience in federal, state, and local laws interplay. Employment opportunities on the state government level are similar to the federal options and include working as a governor’s attorney or as a liaison from state agencies, with the legislature, or with advocacy groups.

Resources:

State government websites should feature information and an online process to apply. Research state political party websites for any information on possible positions within the legislative leadership. Advocacy groups will have their own webpages for information.

Local

One of the least familiar, yet most rewarding, opportunities for the graduating student is a practice that involves municipal law at the local government level. Attorneys at the municipal level enjoy the wide range of issues they are able to address while working with local council members on changes to administrative codes. Attorney positions exist both in working for the unit of local government and for the local law firms that usually help to manage its legal affairs.

Resources:

The adage "all politics is local" applies to securing a position in local government legislative affairs. Interested YLD members should visit webpages for their local municipality for information as well as research what law firms handle the legal work for that locality.

Lobbying
The above discussion focuses mainly on jobs in the public sector. Another option is to pursue a position in a lobbying firm that handles client issues at each government level. In the federal system, the Senate and House of Representatives both have specific websites devoted to listing lobbying entities registered with the government; most state systems have similar tracking services, usually through the secretary of state.

As you can see by this brief overview, staff attorney positions in legislative affairs are available at the federal, state, and local government levels. Moreover, with a relatively high turnover rate of staff attorneys in this sector, both recent graduates and experienced young lawyers have meaningful opportunities to find and secure such positions.

Checklist

Strategic networking is the best way to become aware of opportunities and present your best candidacy for any of the positions described here. It's helpful to always be reviewing this quick checklist:

Is my elevator speech tailored to my audience? Can I present my background, skills, and aspirations in a concise and compelling way to engage people in conversation?

What venues will introduce me to people who can advance my career aspirations?

Am I regularly tracking my network to ensure that I am engaging every relevant contact to advance my plan? Am I updating my contact list to reflect people I've recently met?

If you don't have a plan, visit your school's career services office and your local ABA affiliate's practice committee on the subject area of interest.

Helpful Skills

No matter how much experience one has in legislative affairs, there are a few key skills that are needed to successfully advocate for your client:

Be a leader of good character—nothing matters more than your word in the legislative arena.

Be concise—brevity controls when you are advising legislators.

Be comprehensive—both for assembling written analysis and advising during legislative session.

Have courage—political winds can be fierce, requiring you to summon belief in yourself to chart the right course toward success.

Changes to legislation at the federal, state, and local levels affect your clients, and following these changes will help you ensure every avenue of advocacy is considered for his or her clients.

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