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The Capitol

Capital Lawyering

Once considered an "alternative career," capital lawyering has developed into a rich practice area, which includes lobbying, legislative lawyering, and political practice. More and more often, lawyers are hired for positions in the Capital, both Sacramento and Washington, D.C., because their legal education gives them the ability to understand and interpret the laws being considered by legislative chambers, city councils, or various administrative agencies.

Capital lawyers may work in the offices of local, state or federal representatives, senators, and legislative committees, as well as for governors, mayors, city council members and more. Attorneys who work directly with lawmakers draft and initiate legislation, participate in committee hearings, and assist in the passage, or defeat, of particular bills. The issues they work on range from labor relations, environmental issues, healthcare regulation to tax laws. Capital lawyers may also represent corporations, trade associations or professional associations. They track legislation that may affect their clients' industry and advise leaders of the corporations and associations of the effects of the legislation. Many of them also work for special interest groups, such as the American Association of Retired Persons or the Sierra Club.

Regardless of where they work, it is rare for a capital lawyer to spend a great deal of time in their own office. Their days are generally spent in various meetings with stakeholders, business lunches with legislators and legislative staffers, or in committee hearings. When they do get time in their office, much of it is spent on the phone with their clients, advising them of the latest legislation and how it will affect their interests. Many capital lawyers find great satisfaction in the strong relationships they build with their clients and the other people they come across in their practice. Because the issues they work on vary so much, it is rare for a capital lawyer to have a "typical day," and many find the variety in their work to be incredibly satisfying. There is also a sense of public service and duty that comes with being a capital lawyer. Many who practice in the capital are able to witness the direct effects of their work. Whether they were successful in passing or defeating a bill, or in getting a certain individual elected, the role that capital lawyers play generally effects a greater population, which is never too far from their minds.


Externships

Externships

Pacific McGeorge's Field Placement Program allows you to earn law school credit while performing supervised legal work as an extern at nearly 100 approved government agencies, courts or non-profit entities. Visit the Field Placement office on TWEN to learn about our Externship Programs or to schedule an appointment.

Clinics

Clinics offer faculty-supervised, law office settings in a variety of legal practice areas. Go to the Pacific McGeorge Legal Clinics homepage for the current list of clinics.

Skills

The skills required to succeed as a capital lawyer are very similar to those required for private practice. For example, strong writing and speaking skills are paramount. Capital lawyers must be able to articulate policy effectively and with confidence. At the same time, they must know how to negotiate in a way that will meet their clients' objectives without alienating legislators and staff members. It's also important for capital lawyers to be able to identify how trends will affect legislation and to be able to analyze legislation on the spot, since they are frequently called upon for advice at the last minute. Finally, a passion for politics and a thorough understanding the legislative process are crucial to a successful career in capital lawyering.

Skills often found in capital lawyers:

  • Analytical skills
  • Communication skills
  • Confidence
  • Creativity
  • Integrity
  • Negotiation
  • Passion for the legislative process
  • Persuasiveness
  • Political savvy
  • Reliability
  • Sensitivity to politics
  • Statutory drafting
  • Statutory interpretation
  • Strong writing skills
  • Team work
  • Understanding of legislative process

Co-Curricular Activities

McGeorge students should take advantage of the opportunity to complete the Capital Certificate in Public Law and Policy. The requirements for the Capital Certificate are expressly designed to prepare students for careers that involve government and the legislative process. Furthermore, the McGeorge Capital Center for Public Law and Policy hosts events every year that allow students learn more about capital lawyering and to meet lawyers who do policy work. Students also should not pass up the opportunity to solicit for the Review of Selected California Legislation ("Greensheets"), published annually by the McGeorge Law Review.

Students should also study the political process and demonstrate their interest in legislative work by volunteering with political campaigns and interning in the office of a legislator, lobbying firm, or law firm with a legislative focus. Sacramento presents ample opportunities for students at McGeorge to be involved in all aspects of the legislative process. As the seat of California's government, it is host to state legislators' offices, as well as a large number of lobbying organizations and law firms that handle legislative issues. Additionally, the legislators who represent the citizens of Sacramento in the federal government usually have offices here. For students who want to work with federal politics, an internship in the office of either a Member of the House or a Senator in Congress, while hard to come by, would be a good way to become familiar with how legislatures work and to make contacts that could lead to a permanent job, on or off Capitol Hill, down the line.

  • Moot Court
  • Mock Trial Competition Team
  • Governmental Affairs Student Association (GASA)
  • Conduct informational interviews with attorneys and others in government. The CDO has a helpful handout (pdf) that explains the best ways to request an informational interview.

Practice Settings & Clients

Practice Settings

Capital lawyering is practiced in Washington, D.C., state capitals, and other major municipalities. Washington, D.C. has the most opportunities for lobbyists and legislative lawyers, mainly offering opportunities to become involved with the federal legislative process. Sacramento, as the capital of California, is a "hotbed" for capital lawyers. New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago also have many lobbyists and legislative lawyers because of the high concentration of businesses in those locations.

Capital attorneys usually work in large law firms or boutique firms. They also work in the federal and state government, (e.g., Congress, as staff to members of Congress or congressional and legislative committees, legislative counsel offices, legislative affairs offices within executive agencies, the White House—in the Office of White House Policy or the Office of the Chief of Staff, governors' offices, local government, school boards, city councils, non-profit organizations, unions, trade associations, professional associations, interest groups, advocacy organizations, and corporations with a legislative affairs group).

Clients

Lobbyists' and legislative lawyers' clients vary depending on the nature of their work. They can be any of the following:

  • Advocacy groups
  • Companies
  • Interest groups
  • Legislators and their constituents (for legislative staff)
  • Local governments and their citizens
  • Professional associations and their members
  • Trade associations and their members
  • Unions and their members

Professional Resources

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  • Allan Zaremberg

    Allan Zaremberg

    CEO and President, California Chamber of Commerce
    Capital Lawyering
    1978

    After serving two California governors as their chief lobbyist, Allan Zaremberg, '78, wanted to continue serving the public in the most far-reaching way he could ...

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  • Rex Frazier

    Rex Frazier

    President, Personal Insurance Federation of California
    Capital Lawyering
    2000

    Rex Frazier enrolled in the evening division at McGeorge in order to become better at his day job. After serving ...

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  • Steve Hansen

    Steve Hansen

    Sacramento City Council Member
    Capital Lawyering
    2011

    Hansen had little intention of practicing law when he entered Pacific McGeorge School of Law. Hansen, '11, had five years of public policy work when he started attending McGeorge ...

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