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December 14, 2017

Jen Duggan: Problem Solver

Member Profile - Jen Duggan, General Counsel, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources

As General Counsel, Duggan leads the 15-lawyer office and manages all legal services for the agency. She and her staff provide legal assistance to the Office of Planning, Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. The range of legal services includes drafting and reviewing policies and permits, rulemaking and providing general advice on agency matters. The attorneys in the Enforcement and Litigation Section also represent the agency in litigation and other proceedings before Vermont’s Environmental Court and other administrative bodies.

What do you like best about your job?
One of my favorite aspects of the job is working with the agency's scientists and technical staff to protect Vermont's natural resources and public health. I have learned so much from them, and it is inspiring to work with folks that are dedicated to the agency's mission. Another rewarding aspect of my current job and throughout my legal career has been mentoring lawyers who share my passion for protecting public health and the environment.   

What is the best piece of advice you ever received career-wise and why?
The best piece of career advice I received was to pursue work that truly inspired me even if it wasn't a traditional career path or was a deviation from the path I had started. Being a lawyer is probably one of the most challenging jobs out there, but it is much easier to manage those challenges and do your best work when you are motivated to "show up" to work each day.

Why did you decide government practice was a good fit for you?

Prior to joining the agency, I worked for a non-profit organization that represented citizen groups impacted by coal and refinery pollution in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, Louisiana, and Illinois. I worked to increase transparency and to hold federal and state governments accountable to local communities harmed by pollution. I also gained an understanding of the complex environmental and public health problems that state agencies are asked to solve with limited resources, diverse stakeholders, and other challenges. 

I jumped at the chance to lead a team of lawyers at an agency engaged in this important work. I always remind our legal staff that we are not just lawyers, we are also problem solvers. 

What kind of feedback from a client have you received that was helpful?
Early in my legal career, I was reminded by a client of the need to spend time explaining legal processes. As a new lawyer, I had glossed over this, assuming the client would either not be interested or already had a reasonable grasp of the legal aspects of the situation. It turned out that I was wrong. I learned that it is important for clients to have context for the legal advice you provide. For many clients, the legal process is foreign and can be frightening or confusing. I think this is also true for some experts, especially agency scientists and technical staff. After that learning experience, I spend as much time as necessary to ensure the client or expert understands the legal process and their role.

Name one person that helped with your career development and explain what he/she did?
At the non-profit organization for which I previously worked, the executive director supported my professional development in many ways. One of the most important was to provide me with leadership roles even though I was a new attorney - in important meetings with clients, in critical negotiations, and in litigation. These opportunities helped me develop my skills as a lawyer, which has given me confidence throughout my legal career to tackle new challenges.

One thing that you do to relax?
I love sneaking away to a yoga class, gardening, or taking a walk in the woods to unwind.

What do you know now that you wished you knew when you first began practicing law?
I wish I would have known that I didn't have to have all the answers myself. In many cases, lawyers are asked to solve complex problems, and there is usually not one "right" answer to whatever problem a lawyer may be grappling with (procedural, client management, ethical, etc.). It is extremely helpful to consult with co-counsel and other colleagues because each person has a different set of experiences and a new perspective. I have found that solutions resulting from consultation and collaboration are almost always better than any solution I come up with on my own.