Op-Ed: A Primer on a Career in Lobbying

by Mike Tellerico

Scenario #1:  You deliver Oscar-worthy opening statements.  You turn adverse witnesses into bumbling and sweaty messes.  You always get the “smoking gun” before a jury.  You have brought no fewer than eight multinational conglomerates to their knees and made it rain in the process.

Scenario #2:  You stand in line at 7 a.m. to sign your client up to give public hearing testimony, which you are drafting while you wait.  You sit for six hours in a committee meeting as politicians who like to hear themselves speak and other politicians who love to hear themselves speak try out new “hold for applause” phrases for the upcoming campaign.  You monitor for any amendments introduced from the chamber floor—sometimes at 2 p.m. and other times at 2 a.m.—that could in a matter of minutes unravel your last three months’ worth of work.

I’m sure many students at UConn Law have aspirations of the type of lawyering presented by Scenario #1.  Even those that may not be all that enamored with high-stakes litigation still probably envision after graduation a more traditional legal practice than that described in Scenario #2.  But for those with an interest in a more “alternative” career in the law, the latter—lobbying—deserves serious consideration.

In simplest terms, lobbying entails educating lawmakers on a client’s particular policy issues and persuading them enough to either support or oppose a proposed bill.  In this regard, lobbying is not all that different from traditional advocacy before an adjudicative body in which attorneys represent their clients’ interests and attempt to persuade a judge or hearing officer to render judgment in their favor.

What one will see in lobbying that one won’t—or certainly shouldn’t—see in traditional advocacy before a court are all the political considerations and “sausage making” (in Bismarckian terminology) that impact these decision-makers.  Re-election prospects will influence a legislator’s vote as surely as the caucus room promises to support one another’s pet bills.  Some bills require lockstep adherence to party leadership; others warrant deviation on account of constituent concerns.  But, if as a lobbyist you are able to read all these considerations and “figure out” a lawmaker, then you at least have a strategy for appealing to her sensibilities and convincing her to side with your client.  Of course, once that is done, you can then move on to doing the same thing for the twenty other legislators’ votes you need to secure for passage (or defeat).

The legislative process as a whole is in many ways a fascinating—and at the same time incredibly frustrating, perhaps even borderline depressing—examination of the social psychology underlying those primarily responsible for creating workable (insert cynical joke here) policy in this state.  For those interested in exposure to this phenomenon, UConn Law offers a few courses taught by instructors with a true “inside” perspective on what happens over at our Capitol.  The Legislative Process and Legislative Clerkship courses are co-taught by Con O’Leary and Carl Schiessl, both of whom had previously spent considerable time as members of the General Assembly.  And for the first time this upcoming fall, a course in Law and Lobbying will be co-taught by P.J. Cimini and Matthew Hallisey, both successful lobbyists.  Several prominent Hartford-area firms also have government relations groups that may offer externships during the legislative session.

Should you decide that lobbying is not for you (probably because you want to be able to look at yourself in the mirror) but still have a desire to be in the legislative environment, the General Assembly has opportunities for lawyers in the non-partisan Office of Legislative Research as well as in the Legislative Commissioners’ Office.  Attorneys from both offices are frequently “in the room” when major initiatives are discussed and can see first-hand some of the horse-trading that takes place along the way.

Even if the traditional types of lawyering are more your bag, I would recommend that students and graduates begin to expand their networks to include those involved in the legislative process—lobbyists, legislators, committee staffers, etc.  The insight gained from simply learning how a particular policy, expressed in particular language, made its way into the statute books is often illuminating…and may one day help you win your case before a court.  Plus, I may have been exaggerating slightly (but only slightly) in my account here.