Notice & Comment

Meet Joanne Zimolzak, Managing Partner at McKenna Long DC Office, by Nina Hart

Meet Joanne Zimolzak, head of the Insurance Division and Managing Partner in the DC Office of  McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP.  Below, Ms. Zimolzak describes her experiences with administrative law and several major challenges facing both practitioners and clients.

1.  What led you to a career in law?

I am the first member of my family to attend law school.  I started thinking about a career in law when I was in junior high school.  Apparently I had a strong tendency to play “devil’s advocate,” and my friends and family often suggested that law might be a good field for me.  I spent a year between college and law school working at a small firm, which cemented my choice.

2.  What experiences with administrative or regulatory law have you had?

Understanding the administrative law process, including limitations on agency action, has proven extremely valuable in connection with my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) work.  Throughout my career, I have assisted government contractors with obtaining and/or successfully preventing the release of sensitive business information under federal and state FOIA provisions.  In certain cases, the agency’s failure properly to justify its determination has provided a strong basis to press for the best possible result from the client’s perspective.

In terms of regulatory compliance, I have assisted several companies in alleged procurement fraud matters and in conducting related internal investigations.  I also routinely advise insurance industry clients regarding regulatory compliance issues.  Recently, much of this work has focused on the emerging risk of climate change and its resulting impact on the industry, both from a regulatory standpoint and a potential liability standpoint.

3.  How did you become interested in pursuing a career in administrative law?

Early in my career, I had an opportunity to work on several Administrative Procedure Act challenges to federal agency actions.  These were important matters to our clients, whose industries were negatively affected by agency actions that did not (at least in our view) comport with applicable standards.  I also had the opportunity early in my career to assist clients with litigating federal preemption cases to state law claims, including as amicus curiae in proceedings before the U.S. Supreme Court.  These experiences piqued my interest in administrative law and helped me appreciate its utility as a tool to minimize the risks of agency arbitrariness and overreaching.

4.  Do you have any advice about “best practices” for attorneys, particularly for those whose work requires frequent interaction with government agencies?

In law, as in life, communication is key.  It is helpful to have relationships within government agencies and to deal respectfully and productively with agency personnel, even in an adversarial situation.  Depending on who you are dealing with within an agency, there is often a good deal of useful information available.  Make sure you know your issue, and avoid taking unnecessary “pot shots” at the opposition – after all, chances are you will be dealing with them again and may even need their help.

5.  Is there a difference in how attorneys should approach appearances before specialized courts, such as the Court of Federal Claims or Federal Circuit, as opposed to generalist courts?  In your experience, are the judges on specialized courts looking for different things from attorneys, or do you perceive them as having a somewhat different outlook from their generalist colleagues?

When appearing before specialized courts, practitioners sometimes get tripped up by things as simple as the court’s particular rules and procedures.  Spend some time getting to know these, and talk to or associate with someone who routinely practices before these courts.  It will be time well spent.  I think on one level, all courts are looking for the same kinds of things – competence, respectful conduct to the court and other counsel, adherence to court rules and practices, etc.  Certainly specialized courts are used to seeing practitioners who are very experienced in certain types of cases, so there is a high level of competence that they have come to expect in such matters.

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

Managing client expectations is very important.  Both the agency decision-making process and any eventual legal challenge to agency action involve multiple steps and can take a good deal of time.  The standard of review applicable to agency action in certain situations can be difficult to overcome.

7.  You have handled numerous insurance cases during your career.  Would you describe some of the challenges facing international/multinational companies and their attorneys in terms of regulatory compliance?

Globalization has led to increased opportunities for international commerce, but the flip side involves increased potential for legal liability.  Multinational companies frequently find themselves in the position of facing financial and reputational risk across multiple jurisdictions.  Companies appreciate the importance of identifying regulatory issues and ensuring compliance across a growing geographical footprint, but in the reality of today’s environment, they often are doing so with fewer resources.  Substantively, large insurers and other multinational companies are facing a host of regulatory compliance issues, including in the areas of antitrust/competition, data privacy and protection, environmental/safety, and anti-corruption/bribery.  One thing to keep in mind in assisting multinational companies with these issues is the different privilege rules that apply in different jurisdictions.

8.  For 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?

It may sound obvious, but I would encourage law students to take a course in Administrative Law and Procedure.  This was one of the best courses I took at Georgetown and it provided an excellent introduction to the field.  In my view, this course should be a prerequisite for anyone thinking of practicing law in the Washington D.C. area (regardless of eventual discipline).  Another suggestion would be to intern with a federal agency during or after law school.

8.  Outside of the law, what are your favorite activities or hobbies?

I enjoy spending time with my two daughters, ages 11 and 4.  In my spare time, I love to cook (and in this regard, it is helpful that I also love to eat!).  I enjoy traveling to different cities and countries, where I try to immerse myself in the local culture.  I’m a huge movie buff – some recent favorites include Her and Silver Linings Playbook.  I’m a big fan of ice-skating and recently took up stand up paddleboarding, which is a hoot. 

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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