"A great number of diverse attorneys are in the government agencies. So if you want someone with expertise in a practice area, it makes sense to recruit them out of the agencies." -Ron Jordan
A recent National Association for Law Placement (NALP) study of employment patterns spanning the years 1982 to 2004 indicated that while the percentage gap is narrowing, historically, women and minority attorneys are more likely than non-minority males to accept positions in government organizations.1 Recognition of this fact—coupled with efforts to tap this group of highly trained attorneys—could result in increased diversity in corporate legal departments.
"A great number of diverse attorneys are in the government agencies. So if you want someone with expertise in a practice area, it makes sense to recruit them out of the agencies," says Ron Jordan, founding principal of the attorney placement and diversity search firm Carter-White & Shaw. "There are thousands of people who are not only competent but are truly good at what they do," he adds.
Government employment provides these attorneys with an asset that is attractive to corporate legal departments and unattainable in the law firm setting. "You have a better perspective when you come from a government agency and go in-house. You're better suited to tell how the agency is going to approach the case," says Jordan. "These practitioners are coming from the source and that is what Corporate America truly needs." Mark Salvacion, formerly a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) attorney, both echoes and illustrates Jordan's point.
"The most effective lawyers who interact with the agencies are those who worked with the agencies," explains Salvacion, chief legal officer and senior vice president for Prudential Investment Management Services LLC (PIMS), one of Prudential Financial's five broker-dealers. "People on the outside don't know how much people within the agency are willing to move on an issue. If you don't know how the SEC works, the natural inclination is to hammer away at the agency—to make it difficult for them and that is not always the right way to handle it for your client."
For two years, Salvacion worked in the SEC's Enforcement Division prosecuting securities crimes. For another two years, he worked in the SEC General Counsel's Office, where he advised the Commission on broker-dealer cases. He then worked as an associate at Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP in Philadelphia and later served as a director of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange.
Salvacion explains that as an Asian American attorney entering the profession in the early 1990s, he felt that his resume might need a boost. "We weren't being taken seriously, so I wanted to enhance my credentials for going into a law firm," says Salvacion, who served as a law clerk for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit before joining the SEC. "When I realized that I wanted to practice in the securities area, the SEC was the natural choice."
Jordan notes that even experienced diverse attorneys are going into the government to develop or enhance their skill sets in ways law firms either cannot or have not. "I'm seeing a lot more going back into the government because they want to get trial experience or, if they are in the securities area, they go to the SEC," says Jordan. "They take a cut in pay but it makes them more marketable."
While Jordan believes attorneys at private law firms are not at a disadvantage when seeking employment in a corporation, government service offers a clear benefit to the corporate employer in the form of contacts-knowing whom to ask and having the ability to do so. "The corporation needs instantaneous knowledge—like yesterday. As a former government attorney, you can go straight to the source confidentially and ask, theoretically, 'If we do this, what are the implications?' " says Jordan. "Then you can develop a legal strategy and can report a strategic plan."
Salvacion also appreciates the benefits of keeping in contact, both socially and professionally, with his former colleagues at the SEC. "The SEC has a very active alumni presence. When you attend the SEC Speaks event or the annual Securities Regulation Institute, you see your old friends who are still at the agency and people who practiced with you. It is a very collegial bar," conveys Salvacion. "It has been helpful to call friends even if they are still at the agency to ask for advice on a no-names basis."
Promoted Ethics/Comfort Zone
In addition to connectivity, Salvacion believes that government agencies engender a keen sense of professionalism in their staff attorneys that eventually inures to the corporate employer's benefit.
"There is a high degree of ethics at the SEC, FTC, DOJ, and other agencies. You go and practice with these people who are really upstanding and it makes you want to be upstanding as well," says Salvacion. He feels that because Prudential also emphasizes ethics, this by-product of his work at the SEC is particularly beneficial.
Victor Olds, vice president and senior attorney at Morgan Stanley, believes that work experience with a government agency may also create a comfort zone between current and former government attorneys. "I think that there is some appreciation for the fact that over the past 28 years, I have built up a reputation as someone who is respected in the legal community generally, and within local, state, and federal government in particular. The hope is that that 'good will' in turn translates into a fair measure of credibility when I am asked to deal with those same government entities on behalf of my firm," says Olds, who represents Morgan Stanley in litigation, arbitration, regulatory, and compliance matters before the SEC, National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD), and the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
From 1992 to 2000, Olds was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York in the office's Criminal Division. There he handled insider trading, market manipulation, fraud, and criminal civil rights violations. From 1988 to 1992, Olds worked in the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney's Office handling Federal Tort Claims Act matters and Americans with Disabilities Act claims, among other cases. Prior to that, Olds served for eight years as an assistant attorney general in charge of the New York State Department of Law Harlem Regional Office, where he enforced state and federal consumer protection statutes. Today, he draws upon this extensive experience as an in-house attorney.
"In government, I had the opportunity to work with state and federal agents, which is an extremely useful experience when working in the highly regulated securities industry, and it has provided me with the sort of insights that can rarely be gained in a law firm setting," indicates Olds. "Morgan Stanley, like every large broker-dealer, receives many, many inquiries from state regulators. Having, in effect, worked as a state regulator for the New York State Attorney General for eight years, it is perhaps easier for me to identify the nature and focus of the various inquiries we receive than someone who has not had the benefit of working in that capacity."
Before moving on to Morgan Stanley, Olds was a litigation partner with Holland & Knight LLP, where he handled white-collar criminal defense and complex civil and corporate litigation. While he sees his years there as beneficial—including exposure to "the dynamic between in-house and outside counsel"—he credits his government experience with providing certain skill sets.
"I believe that my ability to analyze issues accurately, and to discern the underlying focus of inquiries, particularly inquiries that we receive from regulators, which is routine for large financial institutions, are skills that I have honed as a result of my 20 years of having worked in state and federal government," says Olds. Yvonne Brathwaite, founder of the legal staffing firm In-House Only, conveys that there is opportunity for government-experienced attorneys, particularly in highly regulated industries such as securities, food and drug, pharmaceutical, utilities, and telecommunications.
"Generally, any highly regulated company is going to be interested in lawyers with federal agency experience," says Brathwaite. "I get a few calls on the retail side for people with white-collar experience or government relations experience for lobbying purposes. Manufacturing companies often need folks with tax policy and customs experience." Indeed, she estimates that about 60 percent of the attorneys she has placed in corporate legal departments have had some government experience, including Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Commu ni cations Commission (FCC), SEC, Treasury Department, United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Justice (DOJ), and Federal Reserve Bank, as well as state attorney generals' offices.
Barriers to Entry
However, Brathwaite notes that in contrast to law firms where attorney bios and photos appear on the same web site, the inaccessibility of similar information for agency attorneys makes recruitment directly from the office more difficult. Given the greater challenge in identifying these lawyers, Brathwaite notes that most of the lawyers that she places from government agencies come directly to her rather than her recruiting them.
Brathwaite estimates that approximately 25 percent of the attorneys she has placed have come directly from government agencies to in-house positions, and she believes that number could be much higher. She also stated that a refutable perception may present a hurdle for these attorneys that is slowly dissipating. "Companies expect to see candidates out of the large law firms. But that is changing a little," says Brathwaite. "There is an increasing specific interest in and request for lawyers with government experience, and they are finding that if we are truly interested in diversity, here is a pool we need to look at specifically."
Tina M. Pompey, senior trademark counsel at Chevron Corpora tion, also notes the change in receptivity.
"There was a day—when I was looking to leave the government, recruiters looked down on my government experience—but as time moved on, and so many of us made the transition to law firms and corporations, perhaps recruiters changed their minds," says Pompey, who worked at the USPTO from 1988 to 1997. She feels the change in her practice area in particular is a recognition that trademarks are of vital importance to corporations.
"There are a good number of us at the vice president level, and today we are in charge of trademark matters. A lot of companies do recognize the value of the experience," says Pompey, who also notes that Chevron's Vice President and General Counsel Charles A. James served as assistant attorney general in charge of the Antitrust Division at the DOJ before coming to the corporation as evidence of the value Chevron sees in government experience.
Pompey began her legal career as a trademark examining attorney, reviewing trademark applications for three or four years. As a senior attorney, she reviewed more challenging registration cases and trained junior examining attorneys.
"As an examining attorney with the Trademark Office, you only do trademark prosecution, so you really learn that skill well—how to register a mark, how to describe your products and services in your application to get trademarks registered," says Pompey, who in her last two years with the USPTO performed policy-oriented work with the Office of Legislative and International Affairs. There, she represented the U.S. government regarding trademark issues throughout the world, conducted bilateral discussions with foreign trademark offices about treaties, laws, and regulations that affect U.S. trademarks, and helped draft legislation for Congress.
"One of the benefits of being in the agency is that I can appreciate the time it takes the government agency to do something, as well as the ins and outs of what they have to do to give service to their customers," says Pompey. Another benefit is familiarity with several of the attorneys who are now in positions of influence.
"Since I worked there for so long and had a variety of jobs there, I got to know people on different levels. I know a lot of the managing attorneys and senior attorneys," says Pompey. "You keep those contacts up and you know whom to contact in the office when you have an issue, problem, or a simple question."
When Pompey left government service, she worked at a Washington, DC law firm. "I wanted to get the law firm experience. I thought it was important to have after being in government for so long," says Pompey. "It was an opportunity to work for a variety of clients as opposed to just one, and to be exposed to different issues."
By contrast, Taa Grays went directly from her government position to MetLife Legal Affairs. For approximately six years, she was an assistant district attorney for Bronx County, New York, in the Rackets Bureau of the office's Investigations Division. There, she handled matters involving public official corruption and organized crime. Grays' responsibilities as senior counsel at MetLife call upon the litigation and processing skills of team management and team building that she developed in the District Attorney's office.
"As an ADA, we investigated crimes as they were happening. I worked as a team with police officers who were all men and older than I. This created a different dynamic," explains Grays. "I performed a lot of advisory work to show them we all are on a team—setting up agendas, managing conflict, and trying to get to our ultimate goal."
Grays now works in the Litigation Section of MetLife's Legal Affairs Department. The section supports MetLife Enterprise by providing pre-litigation, litigation, or preventative litigation service. She found the transition from the government to the corporate law department was made that much easier because of the shared background and accessibility of her supervisor, who had served as a state prosecutor for more than six years.
"I could go to him and ask questions using some of the language that I used as a prosecutor, and he could help me with the counterpart in the civil context," says Grays. "He has been very integral to my success here," she adds. Another part of success at a corporation is intangibles that cannot be learned in government employment. "At corporations, there is an expectation that you will stay, so having a personality fit is important, as is the ability to learn how the business works," observes Grays. "The corporate employer is looking at how you could interact with business people—who are Legal Affairs' clients."
Grays has referred several of her former colleagues in government for employment at MetLife. She also calls upon those that have transitioned to law firm practice when she must locate speakers for MetLife's internal continuing legal education program. In addition, Grays says that contact with these former colleagues has proven helpful as a source of legal representation when the Enterprise needs outside counsel.
"One of the things that I do is hire people," says Grays. "If I am familiar with their work product, I ask them, 'What kind of work is your firm doing? What are you doing?' Perhaps we can hire them for a case."
The highly trained and diverse group of attorneys with government experience is a rich pool to which corporations can turn to promote their diversity efforts.
Jennifer Borum Bechet is a freelance writer based in Upper Marlboro, Md.
- See Employment Patterns—1982-2004, (NALP Bulletin, June 2006) at http://www.nalp.org/content/index.php?pid=385.
From the November/December 2006 issue of Diversity & The Bar®