Breaking Chains to Build New Links - For the Government Lawyer
This month, I’m starting what will be a several month long installment on networking in different areas of the law. My question is: does or should your networking and self promotion style change depending on what type of law you practice. By “type” I mean are you a government lawyer, at a big law firm, in public interest, etc. I’m going to try to cover the gamut by speaking to professionals who have been successful in their field and finding out what they did to succeed. I’m starting with government lawyers.
This month I spoke to Marian Bruno, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Competition at the Federal Trade Commission and Denise Juneau, the Montana State Superintendant of Public Instruction. Marian and Denise reflect several different types of government lawyering: Marian works for a Federal Agency and has been a government lawyer for over twenty years now. Denise works for a state government and won her post in a recent statewide election though she had worked for the Office of Public Instruction in Montana several times during her career. Denise is also a minority; she is the first American Indian woman to be elected to a statewide office in Montana. Together they offer a variety of perspectives about what it means to be a government lawyer and what networking and self promotion skills one needs to be successful.
Don’t Be Afraid to Seize the Opportunity
I could not help but be struck by how both Marian and Denise’s career paths were greatly affected by their decision to seize an opportunity that opened to them. In Marian’s case, she was working as a staff attorney in the FTC’s Bureau of Competition’s when she was tagged to be the an Assistant to the Director of the Bureau of Competition. Marian seized the opportunity as one that would give her a broader perspective of the work in the Bureau. What she did not expect was how much she would learn from broader exposure to her colleagues throughout the agency. Marian says, “That role gave me the chance to interact with just about everyone in the Bureau, as well as people in other parts of the agency. I learned from outside counsel because I observed meetings where I was able to see a variety of presentation styles. I also had the benefit of being constantly edited by some very talented Bureau Directors which helped to hone my writing skills.” A few years later, Marian was offered the opportunity to begin managing a group at the FTC. Although she had never managed people before, she again jumped at the opportunity. Over the years, she says she has become a stronger manager, as reflected by the fact that every few years another initiative or another piece of the Bureau has been put on her plate. Marian is quick to note, however, that with the increased responsibility, she has had to decrease the amount of time she spends on actual legal practice, “You can’t really shortchange the time you’re giving to people. I still do some legal work but I find that my position has become more focused on management and administration.”
Denise’s life story is one of a person who constantly jumped on opportunities that presented themselves. Denise grew up on the Blackfeet reservation in Montana, the daughter of two American Indians. After graduating high school, she went to Montana State University where she received the Rockefeller Brother’s Fellowship to attend Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and get her Masters. After graduation, she returned to Montana and taught on the reservations where she developed an even greater passion for issues surrounding American Indian education. After her first stint at the Office of Public Instruction (OPI), Denise decided to go to law school. She clerked with two of Montana’s Supreme Court Justices and worked at a Federal Indian law firm before she felt the pull back into education. Thanks to the state legislature’s decision to put more money into Indian education, Denise went back to OPI as the Director of Indian Education. She was working in that post when the then-Superintendant, Linda McCulloch, was term limited out of office. As a result, the Superintendant’s seat was a wide-open race. Denise talked to a few people and then, like so many times before, jumped on the opportunity and threw her hat in the ring.
Your Network Gives You a Leg Up
Marian attributes much of her success to observing and learning from the people she works with. Marian has worked for a number of Bureau Directors and each taught her a lot about management and gave her exposure to people and areas of the law that she would not have been exposed to otherwise.
Marian also benefitted from a pilot program the FTC tried a few years ago, when the agency’s Executive Director brought in personal management coaches. Marian spent six months working with the coach, doing a 360 evaluation and determining what skills she wanted to improve. She says, “I found that to be an incredibly rich experience. Since I didn’t really feel like I had a personal mentor, this gave me the opportunity to think about what I could be doing to take my skill set and improve it.” Marian also says she recognized, through that experience, the importance of coaching and mentoring other people: “It was good to have a safe sounding board, a kind of safe harbor, someone I could go to and just say, ‘I feel like this isn’t working’ or “I’m not sure what I should do’ and get sound advice.”
As someone seeking elected office, Denise had to have a network to fall back on. Luckily, public service runs in her family. Her father had served on the Blackfeet Tribal Counsel for years and her mother was the first American Indian woman elected to the Montana State House and had run several successful campaigns for a State Representative seat and later one for the State Senate. In other words, Denise had a built in base to draw from. At the same time, however, she faced a very different challenge: running for statewide office. While her parents’ service and family network would help her get started, Denise knew she had to build a statewide network if she hoped to succeed. She says her formula was very simple: “Montana is a big state with a lot of counties. You have to find the influential people in a community and convince them to support you.” Then, Denise also relied on a cadre of energized young volunteers. “Running as a Democrat, I was definitely helped a bit by the Obama effect, but I saw it most clearly in the youth who were energized and excited to be involved. At the same time, “running for office is a very humbling experience. First, because you get told no, a lot. Second because there are the people that want to support you and send you money just because they believe in your message.”
Networking and Self-Promotion is No Substitute for Hard Work
At the end of the day, however, both women agree that networking and self-promotion, while important, is no substitute for doing the hard work that needs to be done. Marian recounted a time when she was in a performance review with some of her superiors shortly after she took the Assistant to the Director situation. “I was criticized because I would not speak out enough. In response, I explained that I was often sitting in the room with the Bureau Directors and one or two other policy heads so I was just absorbing everything. Then one of the other people in the review chimed in, “The bottom line is she’s the one who gets the work done.” Marian continued, “You can be the nicest and most personable person, but if you cannot get the work done well and on time, then all the networking in the world is not going to help you.”
Denise too, recognized the value of hard work. “Campaigning in a statewide race where the first part of the battle is just telling people that your position exists, is uphill and slow. We had to do the hard work. We logged a lot of windshield time, we were on the phone recruiting donors, we had to get up on TV and fast. All of that meant that we worked hard. Then we had to identify, among our supporters, who were the doers. Who were the people that were willing to walk the neighborhoods and drop literature or make the phone calls that needed to be made? Those were the people we needed on our side.”
Government Networking v. Other Types of Networking
Both Marian and Denise agree, they do not think there’s a large difference between networking within the government and networking elsewhere. Denise says there may be a different pressure from her standpoint, one that is decided more political: “I can’t get anything done for the state if I don’t have the funding. I have to network with the State Legislature on both sides of the aisle if I’m going to have the money to do what I need to do. Policy does very little good if there’s no funding behind it. We saw that clearly with Indian Education. Once the Legislature funded it, people on and off the reservations got excited about it.” She also says there’s a difference in terms of self-promotion for her. “As a public official, so much of what my office does is about getting me out there, getting me quoted, advancing our policy interests by appealing to the general public. In that sense, I think self promotion is a little easier for me.”
Marian adds that patience is a virtue. “When you work hard, you assume you’re going to rise upward. But you have to recognize that sometimes you’re going to be in a holding pattern. You might be in a particular job a couple years longer than you would like. The hard part is remembering that it’s not just about getting there, it’s the journey you take. The path that you take isn’t necessarily the one you set out on. Sometimes it’s just about luck. If you’d asked me 20 years ago if I would still be here at the FTC, I probably would have told you no way! But I love what I’m doing and I’m still enjoying the journey.”
Note: If you are anything like me, you have never approached networking or self promotion in a systematic way. In fact, you may be terrified of it. Yet, our ability to network and self promote is essential for building a client base, building our own name, and building our careers. Each month I’m going to tackle one strategy for networking or self promotion in an effort to help all of us break the chains we’ve put around ourselves and begin building new links. If you have a topic you’d like covered, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.