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Government Relations Jobs – Use Your Legal Skills As A Lobbyist

Are you interested in influencing legislation, regulations and policies in favor of a client? This is what lobbyists and people in government relations jobs do. Whether working on behalf of public or private entities, they work to build and maintain relationships with politicians and government officials, closely monitoring their legislative and executive activities.

Today’s guest, Martha Pellegrino, is the Director of the Office of Government Relations for the City of Portland, Oregon. Martha tells us all about government relations jobs and being a public sector lobbyist – plus she explains how these paths make good alternative careers for lawyers.

  Join JD Careers Out There for access to this video plus more day-in-the-life career path interview videos & transcripts.

Today’s Guest

Martha Pellegrino, Director of the Office of Government Relations for the city of Portland, ORLobbyist Martha Pellegrino
Title: Director, Office of Government Relations, City of Portland
City: Portland, OR
Law School: University of Oregon School of Law in Eugene, OR
Grad School: University of East Anglia (Master’s of English Lit)
College: University of Illinois in Champaign, IL
Previous Career: Before law school Martha was the development director for the Center for Teen Empowerment in Boston and prior to that worked as a community college writing instructor and administrator.
Martha’s Videos: Government Relations Jobs & Martha’s Career Advice

Government Relations Jobs

Whether you’re exploring law degree jobs or proactively leaving the law, you’ll be happy to know that Martha says government relations jobs make good use of the many skills from law school on a daily basis. She and her team, for example, help to identify issues that may have a legislative or administrative consequence at the state or federal level and then work on strategies to get the best outcome for the people of Portland.

In the full career video, Martha breaks down examples of the types of issues she deals with as a lobbyist, shares how to break in to this path, and explains the different kinds of lobbying careers – from lobbyists working for government entities to national trade association lobbyists, to working for universities or corporations.



This is a preview of the video transcript on being a lobbyist working for the government.

Join JD Careers Out There for access to the full version of this transcript plus the career guidance video library & transcripts.

Luber: Hey everyone – wondering what it’s like to be a lobbyist? That’s what we’re looking at today on JD Careers Out There – where we explore careers in law as well as alternative law degree jobs.

In law school, you learn how to think, read and write like a lawyer. We’re here to help you enjoy your career and achieve success – and a big part of that is finding a path that excites you – so let’s see if you’re excited about today’s path of Government Relations Jobs.

I’m your host 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 Martha Pellegrino, the Director of the Office of Government Relations for the City of Portland, Oregon. I asked Martha to tell us what she does as a Lobbyist in the public sector. Here’s a look at our talk:

Martha Pellegrino: Essentially, as a lobbyist, we are advocates in the legislative process for our client. In this case, it’s the city of Portland, Portland city council, all of our different city departments.

So any issues that come up that have some sort of legislative consequence, or in many cases, administrative consequence at the state or federal level, my office is involved. We help to identify what those issues are and then work on strategies to get the kind of outcome that is good for the good people of Portland.

As the director, I oversee an office of 7 people, so we are an in-house lobbying shop. So that includes doing work at the federal level, as I mentioned state level, and then some regional and statewide issues as well. As the biggest city in Oregon, we’ve got a responsibility to the whole state. So we spend a lot of time travelling around and also hearing about what issues are facing other communities.

Luber: Interesting. So can you give us an example of some of those issues, some examples of things you might be advocating for the city of Portland?

Martha Pellegrino: Sure. Well, let me start with some broad issue areas because the thing that never ceases to amaze me is how many different things touch cities.

So we deal with issues like transportation, affordable housing, water infrastructure, sewer infrastructure and then we’ve got all those issues that everybody else deals with – personnel, public contracting, we’ve got police and fire, 911 responders and the list goes on. So in each of those issue areas, we have different legislative items.

Luber: I always thought that if people want stuff done on their behalf, that they need to personally go or organize in groups and go to their congresspeople. I never knew that there were lobbyists representing public groups or cities that are doing that same work.

How does that work? How do you interact with just the common folk, like me and my neighbors who would maybe have an issue? How does that work?

Martha Pellegrino: Well, first of all, there’s enormous value to citizen activists and citizen advocates and non-profit organizations that help and sort of organize people. In our experience, members of Congress love to hear from people in their district and love it when people flag issues that are important to them.

How it differs a little bit and how we interact with the public, is that we serve an elected body. And any person in Portland can actually lobby or advocate to the city council saying, “This particular issue is something I want the city to take a stance on or take a position on. Here’s this letter I want you guys to sign on because I think it would actually mean a lot to have the city of Portland sign on.”

But basically, with very few people, because we are a government entity, we don’t have teams, dozens of lobbyists. We’re not like maybe a private national industry group who can have armies of people in DC; we really serve a coordinating role, we track all the pieces and then we help facilitate those communications.

But a few times a year, we’ll hold open forums for people to come and let us know what they care about at the state or federal level. So, that’s one way the community can interact directly in our process.

Luber: Interesting. How else are you given the signal that this is something you need to go advocate for? What else tells you? Is it the mayor? Who’s telling you, “This needs to be handled”?

Martha Pellegrino: Well sometimes that does happen. I mean, we work very closely with the Portland mayor, Mayor Sam Adams, and all the Portland city council. And so there are some times when those issues will be flagged at the elective level. They’ll also be flagged sometimes at our city departments. In the Portland Water Bureau, or Bureau of Environmental Services, or city attorney’s office.

One of the interesting things to think about, especially for lawyers, is that, when you’re practicing in a traditional environment, you’re hired by a client to help advise them on legal issues and sometimes that involves going to court. Well on the lobbying side, you’re also advising a client about how to navigate issues, but in a decision-making body other than a court.

So, at a city council or a state legislature or the congressional level or the federal agency; it’s about learning the rules of the game so that you understand how to effectively navigate that decision-making process.

So you’ve got court and then, in my mind, you’ve got everything else – and all the other places where your client’s interest could be impacted. So anyway, that’s just another way of thinking about it.

Luber: That’s great! Let’s dive deeper in the Full Interview. You’ll all get to hear Martha tell us lots more about what it’s like to work in government relations jobs, specifically to be a lobbyist in the public sector.

She breaks down what it takes to accomplish the job, what skills from law school are regularly used, how to break in to government relations jobs and how having a JD helps you to do that.

You’ll want to join the JDCOT membership for access to the full video as well as JDCOT’s library of in-depth career interviews & transcripts that will help you find and land a career that fits you. Check out what people have been saying about JDCOT by clicking here.

Thanks again for watching everybody. I’m Marc Luber and I’ll see ya soon.

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©2015 Careers Out There

Are lobbying careers for you? Would you want government relations jobs on the public side or would you prefer to represent big business? Let us know in the Comments!

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Thinking of leaving the law? The best first step you can take is a good look in the mirror. START HERE:

it's free!
You’ll also get periodic updates, reminders & access to career guidance programs sent to your inbox. We respect your privacy. You can unsubscribe via a click at any time.