Attorneys Across America: Featuring Lauren Damen

Known as the "Live Musical Capital of the World," Austin, Texas was named by Forbes as one of the best cities for job growth in 2014.  I reached out to Lauren Damen, an associate at Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody, to find out what it's like to practice law in the Lone Star State.  Ms. Damen’s full bio appears at the end of this post.

KW:  Where do you practice law?

LD:  At the law firm of Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody.  Our firm is located in Austin, Texas, but many of the clients we represent are based or located in other cities, states, or countries.

KW:  Please describe your legal market. 

LD:  Austin has an active legal market.  The State Bar reports over 9,000 active attorneys in the Greater Austin Area (over 10% of all state bar attorneys).  Many other attorneys reside and practice in different cities, but travel to Austin for work on a routine basis.  While finding a legal opening in Austin can be difficult, as the area continues to grow, that number of attorneys will likely increase.  (Austin was named by Forbes as one of America’s Fastest-Growing Cities in 2014.)  The overall culture for the legal market is competitive but collegial.   

KW:  What are the industries that produce work for lawyers in your area?

LD:  Lawyers in the Austin area are able to maintain successful practices in a variety of fields, whether in private practice or working as in-house counsel.  The Austin area is well known for its high-tech businesses and manufacturing, which provide a large amount of work for lawyers across various practices.  The Austin area is also home to numerous governmental agencies, colleges and universities, a lively real estate market, numerous corporate and regional headquarters (including high-tech, home improvement, and food), as well as a host of successful small businesses and non-profit organizations, all of which produce work for attorneys.  The bar sections with the highest membership in Travis County as of 2013 were Litigation; Real Estate, Probate & Trust Law; Administrative and Public Law; Business Law; Family Law; Environmental and Natural Resources; Intellectual Property Law; and Labor and Employment Law.  (Travis County includes Austin.)

KW:  Please describe your practice area.

LD:  My primary practice is in Administrative and Regulatory Litigation with an emphasis on Utility Law.  This involves representing utilities before the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the State Office  of Administrative Hearings in matters such as proceedings to request approval for rate changes, transmission line routing, rulemakings, and other contested matters.  My practice also includes representing clients in other administrative matters and in traditional litigation such as in oil and gas royalty disputes.      

KW:  How did you get started in this practice area?

LD:  I worked for approximately seven years before entering law school.  My first job out of college was in Houston working for a consulting company where I was introduced to the (then) newly deregulated retail electric market in Texas.  When I decided to come home to Austin, I got a job at the Public Utility Commission of Texas (“Commission”) working on various issues, primarily related to the Texas Retail Electric Market.  I loved the job because there was always something new to learn and work on from developing public policy, to addressing how businesses communicated with each other, to trying to make business practices and regulatory policies work together.  I also appreciated that the industry was full of smart and dedicated people to work with and learn from.  I decided to go to law school to ensure that I would remain qualified for jobs in Austin with the ever-increasing population of highly educated people in the city.  While I found other aspects of the law interesting, I quickly realized that my experience at the Commission and my undergraduate business degree made me continually interested in the electric industry.  My background also increased my marketability to firms at a time when hiring in the legal market was down.  I was excited to be able to use my background in a subject area that I remained interested in as I started my law career. 

KW:  What makes Austin a unique place to practice law?

LD:  Austin is the state capitol and home to many governmental agencies, including the Public Utility Commission and the State Office of Administrative Hearings, which hears contested cases from the Commission and a number of other agencies.  Austin is also the home of the Travis County District Court, where appeals of most state agency actions must be filed.  That makes it a natural location for lawyers practicing in Administrative and Regulatory Law.

KW:  What are good resources for women attorneys in your area?

LD:  The best resources for women attorneys are fellow attorneys that serve as role models or mentors, and firms or employers that are supportive of their goals.  While the Greater Austin Area has a larger percentage of female attorneys than the overall state bar, there are still more male attorneys in Texas than female attorneys.  Many attorneys recognize this and want to help women attorneys succeed.  In terms of organizations, in the Austin area, the Travis County Women Lawyers Association is a resource that, among other things, aims to promote the advancement of women lawyers in the community and provide a forum for women lawyers to connect.  In the electric industry, the Gulf Coast Power Association’s emPOWERing Women initiative is working to provide opportunities for the support, development and networking of women (including attorneys) through programs such as mentoring circles.  Additionally, the Association of Women in Energy is an organization dedicated to encouraging and uniting women (including attorneys) in the energy industry by providing opportunities for networking and learning more about industry issues.

KW:  What has been your best day on the job?

LD:  Every day that we achieve good results for our clients is a great day. 

KW:  What advice do you have for women attorneys following in your footsteps?

LD:  It is important to network to find colleagues, friends, mentors, and potential clients.  You really can never start building your network too early.  Your network can help your career to be more successful, and your life to be more enjoyable.  Make sure to be open to help others in your network with their career and life as well.

It is important to know your clients, their goals, and their practices, and pay attention to the details as you identify and work through their legal issues.  The right approach and solutions can vary with every client.

It is also important to find a workplace that is the right fit.  For me, this means a place where my short and long-term goals are supported; where the work is interesting and engaging; where people are generally happy to come to work every day; where my colleagues are bright, experienced, and willing to help; where it is perfectly fine to have a family and a career; and where my colleagues are respected in the community.  A place that constitutes the right fit will vary for everyone, but there are too many people that tire of this profession because they haven’t found it.  It is worth the time and effort to find the right workplace for you.

Bio:  Lauren Damen has practiced law with Graves, Dougherty, Hearon and Moody since 2011.  Her practice focuses on administrative and regulatory litigation with an emphasis on utility law.  Prior to attending law school, Ms. Damen worked at the Public Utility Commission of Texas for approximately six years, most recently as Director of the Retail Markets Section.  She graduated cum laude from Baylor Law School and received her undergraduate degree in business from Southwestern University. 

Ms. Damen and her husband have a delightful one-year old daughter.  Ms. Damen serves on the Austin Young Lawyers Association’s Women’s Resource Fair Committee.  The annual fair provides homeless, low-income, and battered women access to numerous resources in one location, including: medical services; legal services; a clothing closet; social services agencies; debt and credit counseling; mental health counseling; and, job skills, educational and employment counseling.  She is also a School Liaison Chair for Education First, a scholarship program for seniors at high schools with historically low percentages of college applicants. 

A Message from the Author:  I hope you find our lineup of interviewees interesting and their input useful.  If there is a female attorney you would like me to include in this blog, please contact me at attorneysacrossamerica@gmail.com and include the contact information and brief biography of the potential interviewee.  I look forward to and will consider all suggestions.

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