chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

After the Bar

Public Service

From a Legal Career to Politics: Tips from a County Supervisor and His Chief of Staff

William Gates and T J Mitchell


  • Thirty percent of current US House Members and 51 percent of US Senators have law degrees and have practiced law.
  • Young lawyers looking to make a career in politics must begin building relationships with the political organizers, campaign managers, and staffers in their communities.
  • Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates and Chief of Staff T.J. Mitchell share their stories of going from private practice to in-house counsel to politics.
From a Legal Career to Politics: Tips from a County Supervisor and His Chief of Staff

Jump to:

For many, law school is not just a pathway to a law firm but an outlet to explore an interest and possibly pursue a career in politics or public service. This makes sense, of course, considering that 30 percent of current US House Members and 51 percent of US Senators have law degrees and have practiced law. But what does that pathway look like in practical terms? What other opportunities may be available for law school graduates interested in politics but don’t want to run for office themselves? Here are the stories of two attorneys with experience in private legal practice and politics. 

County Elected Official and In-House Attorney

Bill Gates

My interest in politics and public service began early in my childhood. From a young age, I remember my family actively discussing the political issues of the day around the dinner table. As I progressed through college and law school, I knew public service would be part of my story. I returned to Arizona following graduation and began my legal career at a large regional firm.

Going In-House Made Me a More Effective Elected Official

After five years in private practice, I joined the in-house legal team at PING, a golf equipment manufacturing company. As a business-minded conservative who returned home, I was drawn to the idea of working in the private sector for a Phoenix, Arizona-based, internationally respected company like PING. As I look back on the time I have spent in-house at PING, I believe it has ultimately made me a more effective elected official, partly because it has kept me keenly aware of the needs of local businesses. I am thankful that PING has allowed me to practice law part-time for the past 14 years, which has given me the time needed to serve in local government as an elected official.

Politics, Like Many Other Industries, Is a Relationships Business

My biggest tip for young lawyers looking to make a career in politics is to get out there and begin building relationships with the political organizers, campaign managers, and staffers in your community. Years before I served on the Phoenix City Council and Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, I began building relationships with local community members by volunteering for political campaigns, serving on the precinct committee, and overseeing Election Day operations. I was never paid to perform these activities, but over the course of a decade, these roles allowed me to build lasting friendships with community members—many who would later support me in my campaigns for office.

Even if you have no interest in running for public office, I urge you to consider getting involved with a local political campaign, volunteering as a poll worker on Election Day, or finding another outlet to invest in your community. Our country and our democracy rely on the efforts of thoughtful and engaged citizens—and you may even end up making a career out of it.

Political Chief of Staff and Former Elections Attorney

T.J. Mitchell

After pursuing my undergraduate degree in politics and law, I attended law school with plans to use my legal training as a catalyst to enter public service. I began my legal career practicing securities litigation at a national law firm. Although most of my day-to-day did not involve political work, I scratched my political “itch” through various unpaid activities like assisting the roving attorney task force on Election Day, volunteering for political campaigns, and participating in fundraisers for candidates I supported.

Getting Involved by Volunteering

Eventually, in my role as a litigator, I also gained the opportunity to work on ballot measure challenges. I discovered that in many jurisdictions, the community of politically involved lawyers, either in their practice as elections attorneys or in direct involvement with campaigns, is surprisingly small. By volunteering, I was able to meet the people who are involved with most campaigns in my community. I have found this small community of lawyers to be welcoming, especially to a junior attorney interested in getting involved.

Of course, if your involvement goes beyond attending a fundraiser, be sure to refer to your firm’s conflicts of interest policy. I’ve found it best to be overly communicative when sharing my political involvement with the law firms I have worked for, even though these conversations can be uncomfortable. These upfront disclosures may prevent more uncomfortable conversations down the road. For example, one can imagine a young lawyer getting in hot water for volunteering for a candidate or campaign actively running against a firm client if the associate did not properly disclose that involvement beforehand.

Getting Involved by Serving on a Local Commission

Another way to get involved with the community is to serve on a local commission. Many local elected officials would be thrilled to have a lawyer serve on one of their commissions. Depending on the jurisdiction, there are normally many commissions that cover a broad range of topics. From 2022 to 2023, I served as a commissioner on the Maricopa County Planning & Zoning Commission, which gave me a front-row seat to learning about many of the new local real estate developments. It also allowed me to meet and talk with community members, including developers, zoning attorneys, and involved neighbors, related to the cases before the commission.

When I was asked to serve as a commissioner, Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates told me that my legal background was one reason I was considered for the seat. In addition to enjoying the subject matter, watching other lawyers present to the commission was an excellent learning opportunity, undoubtedly improving my advocacy skills as an attorney.

Becoming Chief of Staff to the County Supervisor

Earlier this year, Supervisor Gates asked me to join his office as chief of staff. In this role, I do not perform any legal work, but I use many skills I honed during my time in private practice, including consensus building, written and oral advocacy, and the ability to analyze statutes and complex factual issues. In fact, three of the five chiefs of staff that support the county’s Board of Supervisors have law degrees. Although this may not be novel advice, your JD can be whatever you make of it. Now more than ever, I encourage young lawyers interested in public service to seek opportunities to get involved. For me, it’s been an incredibly rewarding journey.