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As Seen On
From Law School To Ambassador – Doug Kmiec’s Career Advice For Lawyers
by Marc Luber
Today’s guest, Doug Kmiec, highlights some of the great careers with a law degree you can pursue through the story of his personal journey. Doug was a young lawyer living the law firm life in Chicago who, after being faced with a health crisis, went through a career change to become a law professor.
Doug went on to become a White House Fellow, which ultimately led to his becoming a US Assistant Attorney General during the Reagan Administration, running the Office of Legal Counsel at the US Department of Justice (USDOJ) under Attorney General Ed Meese.
After serving as a top government lawyer, Doug returned to the academic world until years later, when his support for presidential candidate Barack Obama led to his being appointed by then-President Obama to the be US Ambassador to the Republic of Malta.
Now a law professor at Pepperdine, Doug sat down to tell us his story, share career advice and discuss some of the great options for what to do with a law degree.
Ambassador of the United States (Ret.) Doug Kmiec Title: Prof of Constitutional Law & Caruso Family Chair, Pepperdine Univ. City: Malibu, CA Law School: USC School of Law in Los Angeles, CA College: Northwestern University in Evanston, IL Previous Career: Doug’s career has taken him from practicing law in Chicago to becoming a law professor, a White House Fellow, Assistant Attorney General for the Reagan Administration running the Office of Legal Counsel and more recently an Obama-appointed US ambassador. Videos: Doug Kmiec’s Journey & Doug Kmiec’s Career Advice
Doug Kmiec’s Journey
Doug tells us all about his former role running the Office of Legal Counsel for the USDOJ, shares an inside look at being a White House fellow, and shares great career advice from breaking in to roles like these to following your passions and finding the right career for you to going through a career change.
This full career video should leave you inspired. As Doug advises near the end, when searching for great careers with a law degree, you should “dream a little bit.”
Luber: Hey everyone – welcome to JD Careers Out There, where we explore career paths you can do with a law degree – both in and out of law – and we do this to help you find a career that fits you – so you can love what you do.
I’m Marc Luber, the founder of JDCOT. I’ve always used my law degree to work in alternative careers for lawyers – first in the music industry and then as a legal recruiter. I’ve been helping lawyers with their careers since 2003 and I’m excited for the opportunity to help you.
Today we’re talking to someone who has had a really interesting career using his law degree in a variety of ways – and he has lots of stories and advice to share. His name is Doug Kmiec – he’s a retired U.S. Ambassador, appointed by President Obama, and today is a Professor and the Caruso Family Chair of Constitutional Law at Pepperdine University.
Doug started his career as a practicing lawyer in Chicago, changed careers to become a law professor, and then went on to become a White House Fellow, which ultimately led to his joining the Reagan Administration, where he served as the Assistant Attorney General running the Office of Legal Counsel under US Attorney General Ed Meese!
For those who aren’t aware, running the Office of Legal Counsel for the USDOJ is a huge deal – in fact it’s one of the top government lawyer positions in the entire country. From the government’s own website, “the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel provides authoritative legal advice to the President and all the Executive Branch agencies.”
This is good stuff! Professor Kmiec, welcome to JDCOT.
Doug Kmiec: Thanks, Marc. I’m happy to be here.
Luber: Could you tell us about your role with the Office of Legal Counsel?
Doug Kmiec: That is a pretty incredible office. It basically is the in-house constitutional office for the President of the United States and the entire executive branch. It’s literally the general counsel of the executive office. So…
Luber: Now are you in the White House? Is your office in the White House in a case like that? Where are you located?
Doug Kmiec: The Office of Legal Counsel is immediately adjacent to the Attorney General in the Justice Department. So, on the fifth floor there’s a rotunda in a fairly famous area of the building because there were a lot of pictures taken during the civil rights era of Robert Kennedy working in this office, working through the night.
So we were immediately adjacent to the Attorney General, because we’re called the Attorney General’s lawyer.
When there’s a difficult question that requires a disposition to resolve a dispute between two parts of the executive branch, well, you’re not supposed to sue each other if you’re both working for the same President. So, this is sort of an in-house court, as it were.
So when HUD disagrees with Labor or Commerce or one of the other agencies, we resolve that dispute. When the President is asked to sign legislation, it comes to our desk first mainly for purposes of reviewing it for compliance with the Constitution and for compliance with the President’s program.
We do executive orders. So when the President has the authority, has been given the authority by Congress to act on his own, upon the finding of certain matters, we prepare those things.
One of the things that that job allowed us to do was to have the courage of our convictions, because that’s the way that it was designed. It was designed to be the place where politics didn’t enter into it – where it wasn’t a policy call, it was a legal call.
So our approach always was to come in to the Attorney General or the President or the White House counsel, whoever was the source of the request, and say, “look, we’re not saying this is the policy you want or that we endorse the policy, we’re just saying this is what the law requires. And this is what we think you’re objectively expected to do.”
Sometimes that allowed us to do what I think was a noble thing, which was to extend the coverage of federal programs to these individuals, but sometimes it meant we were disappointing the President.
Luber: Sounds intense. I’ve had jobs where I could potentially disappoint a rock star, but I can’t imagine having a job where my responsibilities could include disappointing the President of the United States!
You’ll all want to check out the full interview with Professor Kmiec where he tells us all about his former role, shares an inside look at being a White House fellow, working at the highest levels of government, and shares great career advice from breaking in to roles like these to following your passions, finding the right path for you and even going through a career change.