Notice & Comment

Meet Dr. Helen Boutrous, Department Chair at Mount St. Mary’s College, by Lynn White

As promised, we are delighted to spotlight Dr.Helen Boutrous, Chair of the History and Political Science Department at Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles, in the second part of our feature on the Boutrous family.  The Boutrous’ met while attending the University of San Diego School of Law where they shared a mutual passion for their administrative law course taught by Kenneth Culp Davis, a pioneer in the field.  Dr. Boutrous teaches several classes related to law and public policy and has particular interest in Presidential influence on regulatory policy and the roles of federal, state and local governments in developing public policy.  Below she reflects on practicing in a government agency and inspiring young women to pursue careers in law.

1.What led you to a career in law?

Through high school I saw myself working in government on policy issues – but not necessarily the law.  In college I took a class in which we did a moot court competition.  I was both thrilled and infuriated by the experience.  I knew I wanted more.

2.  What first interested you in administrative law?

I have always been fascinated by government process – the interplay of federal and state power; the inter-branch struggles at the Federal level; and the extent to which government can and does shape society.  It was a real honor during law school to take Administrative Law from Kenneth Culp Davis – but my first academic inspiration in the field was my high school government teacher – Mr. Bolton, Anaheim High School.

3.  You had the opportunity to work on regulations in a Federal agency.  What was that process like?  How was it different from what you learned in law school?

I am very grateful for my experience in the Federal Government.  I had the opportunity to be part of the regulatory drafting process and to defend federal regulations against challenges from regulated industries.  Very quickly after law school, I was litigating before Administrative Law Judges, leading proceedings against violators of Federal laws, and dealing with regulated entities and individuals affected by regulation at public hearings.  Our Administrative Law class was excellent, but nothing can quite prepare you for the dynamics of dealing with the general public, agency policymakers, and OIRA, all at the same time.

4.  What prompted you to transition to studying political science and ultimately teaching?  How do you feel your work as an administrative law practitioner complements your current role?

While still working as a government lawyer, I took a Legislative Process class at Georgetown University.  I was hoping to gain enhanced insight into Congress after some interesting experiences with Congressional Staff.  As has been the case throughout my education, I was enthralled by the study of government process.  I took another class, and another, and ultimately decided to stop practicing and pursue my PhD in the Government Department at Georgetown University.  After completing my PhD and moving to California, I was hired as a professor in the History and Political Science Department at Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles.  I feel my experience as a practitioner adds greatly to what I can offer my students.  “War stories” are a great way to bring legal concepts to life, and I would bet that few undergraduates are as steeped in the regulatory review process as mine are!

5.  You are the pre-law director at Mount St. Mary’s College, and initiated a mock trial and moot court program.  Why do you feel those programs are important?  How have students benefited?

We have a vibrant pre-law minor at Mount St. Mary’s, a Catholic  college primarily for women. Requirements of the program include Legal Reasoning, Constitutional Law and Individual Rights.  When I arrived at Mount St. Mary’s, there had never been a Mock Trial or Moot Court team.  When I suggested it to my students, they jumped at the idea.  We have been competing in Mock Trial since 2004 and in Moot Court since 2009.  Our students have won individual awards and we have made it to national competition in moot court.  I think the program is an invaluable way for students to discover a passion for the law; prepare them for the rigors of law school; and experience the rewards of competition.  I see my students do better work across courses after having been part of these competitions.  My students are being accepted into excellent law schools, and I think the pre-law program and team competition has been a factor.

6.  What do you think are the biggest challenges facing administrative law practitioners?

When I was practicing for the government, a supervising attorney told me:  “remember, they can never out number us.”  I think it must be daunting for private attorneys to take on the government.  Government attorneys practicing administrative law, on the other hand, have many masters: the hierarchy within the agency; the President in the form of OIRA; the general public during notice and comment and public hearings; Congress through statutory delegations and oversight; and the courts through judicial review.  Reaching the optimal outcome is a difficult balancing act of varied interests.

7.  For undergraduates, law students or new attorneys considering a career in administrative law, what do you think would be a good way of familiarizing themselves with the field?

First, I highly recommend practicing law in the government.  A young lawyer can gain significant experience very quickly.  To be a good administrative law practitioner, one must understand government process both in theory and practice.  Therefore, taking courses that delve into government structure and process is very important, as is keeping abreast of political and policy debates.  To get a taste of the administrative world, keep up with regulations at and, as the site says, “help improve federal regulations by submitting your comments.”  And, of course, by following Notice and Comment!

8.  Mr. Boutrous noted that you bonded over a similar passion for an administrative law class.  For our readers who are romantics, could you elaborate on that?

Romantic administrative law practitioners – our kind of people!  Yes, we did bond over a shared fascination with the arbitrary and capricious standard, and legislative vs. adjudicative facts, but it also may have been the long dinner dates after class.  In any event, we started as law review colleagues and classmates, and are still debating legal standards after 25 years of happy marriage.

This post was originally published on the legacy ABA Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice Notice and Comment blog, which merged with the Yale Journal on Regulation Notice and Comment blog in 2015.

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