Meet Renée Landers, Professor at Suffolk University Law School and Vice Chair for the ABA Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice. Below, Prof. Landers shares her diverse experiences with administrative law and insights for practitioners and students alike.
1. What led you to a career in law? How did you become interested in studying and teaching administrative law?
Except for three years when my father was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army, and my family lived there, I grew up in Springfield, Illinois. Our house was eight blocks from Abraham Lincoln’s home. As a result, Lincoln’s story and his legal career always held my interest. In addition, as Springfield is the state capital, the process of lawmaking and politics was an everyday feature of life. I was hooked at an early age. Law school seemed like a natural ambition for someone with these interests.
In college, I studied government, and then took a position in the State Bookstore Division of the Office of the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth. That Division, along with the Rules and Regulations Division, published and sold copies of Massachusetts regulations and other publications. Everyone came into the Bookstore—plumbers, nurses, electricians, doctors moving into the state, aestheticians, architects, funeral directors. After the Bookstore, I served as the Chief Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Commonwealth, then in two different Deputy Secretary positions—the Public Records Bureau, which administers the Massachusetts public records law, and the Corporations Bureau, which manages corporate filings and securities regulation. All the material I studied on public administration in college started to make sense. So, after five years in that office, when I finally went to law school, I wanted to build on what I already had learned about the administrative process. Administrative Law is the perfect field for someone interested in the political process, government, and law.
2. What experiences with administrative or regulatory law have you had?
After law school, I clerked for the then Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and the docket certainly included review of administrative agency decisions. I joined a firm with a substantial health law practice, which involves a great deal of administrative law relating to state regulatory issues, as well as matters concerning the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Even as a summer associate with the firm, I had worked on briefing for an appeal of a major determination of need matter before a state agency. Subsequently, I left private practice to teach at Boston College Law School and taught administrative law, health law, and constitutional law, which remain in my teaching portfolio today. After teaching at BCLS for a few years, I worked in the Clinton Administration, first in the Office of Policy Development in the U.S. Department of Justice, and then as Deputy General Counsel of the Department of Health and Human Services. Both positions involved dealing with a wide variety of administrative law and policy issues. While at HHS, I was involved in some early work that led to the development of the HIPAA Health Information Privacy regulations and that became a major area of focus for private practitioners and their clients after the rules were promulgated. After leaving the government, I returned to my former firm, and rejoined the health law practice.
3. As someone who has worked in both the public and private sectors, do you have any advice for attorneys looking to transition between the two areas? Is there a different skill or mindset that attorneys need to bring to or develop for government work that may not be as crucial in a more traditional litigation practice and vice versa?
I have tremendous admiration for career government lawyers who are able to adapt to changing administrations and shifting priorities. The ability to serve the institutional interests of the government through changing administrations is a temperamental attribute that serves the public well. In some ways, this ability to adapt is similar to the skill that the lawyer in private practice needs to have in understanding the goals and motivations of different clients.
Working as a government lawyer offers the potential to work on high-profile issues and the privilege to have a concern for doing the right thing, not just present facts or issues in the light most favorable to a client. The goal of the prosecutor is not to win, but to seek justice. The goal of other government lawyers is to try to shape policy and law in a manner faithful to congressional intent and to the benefit of the public. Institutional interests and political concerns do sometimes weigh heavily in the decisionmaking calculus, but the larger values are always present. When I worked in the government, I was cognizant that on any given day, there might be an issue or a direction that I could not support or rationalize, leaving resignation as the only responsible course of action. Happily, the occasions giving rise to such tensions are few, but every lawyer has boundaries he or she will not cross. In private practice, lawyers sometimes must navigate situations in which clients act in ways that make it more difficult for attorneys to represent them. In both government and private practice, these situations are difficult.
From what I have said, it is probably clear that I think that the “client” is a different concept for the government lawyer than for the lawyer in private practice. I think the concept of “zealous advocacy” should be interpreted differently for the government lawyer than for the lawyer in private practice.
I am also reminded of process constraints every year when I teach the material on ex parte communications and bias and prejudgment. These materials teach the public sector lawyer and the lawyer in private practice always to ask the question about how the person on the other end of the communication may perceive it before picking up the phone to make a call or meeting with a decisionmaker.
4. 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?
I think that this is where I am supposed to say that joining the Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice is the best way to become immersed in many of the central issues in the field! The substantive projects and programs of the Section offer great learning opportunities and the ability to connect with leading practitioners and academics in the field. These people can be tremendous resources for lawyers. On a related point, reading the Administrative Law & Regulatory News is a way to stay current.
Law students really should take a course in administrative law. To paraphrase the slogan on the Section’s tee shirts, every field of law involves administrative law to some extent, so have the overview is really important. The business sections of the leading national newspapers—and sometimes the front page—also are excellent sources of information about important state and federal administrative actions affecting particular industries or sectors.
5. What advice might you give to lawyers or law students interested in being more involved with the Section? Perhaps you could explain how and why you became involved with the ABA and this Section.
Tom Susman, who is now the ABA’s Director of Government Affairs, was a partner in the law firm with which I practiced and he had been involved in the Section. He put my name forward to the nominating committee for a position on the Council after I left the government and that was the beginning of my involvement with the Section. The meetings and programs are really interesting and thought-provoking, and are useful in teaching administrative law. Also, I enjoy the people immensely—they are smart, creative, and welcoming. The Section provides colleagues in the field across the political spectrum and across the various substantive administrative law fields. Section involvement also offers the opportunity to have a role in the debate on policy issues in administrative law. The Section is a well-respected source for information and commentary on developments in administrative law, and it is a privilege to be part of the Section’s policy-making process.
6. Outside of the law, what are your favorite activities or hobbies?
Until my son went off to college two years ago, I spent a lot of time driving and attending sporting and performance events in which he was involved. As he attends college near home, I still attend a lot of concerts in which he is involved. It is fun, not a parental duty!
I serve, or have served, on several boards for organizations that are not focused on law: an art museum, a university library advisory committee, an advisory board for a public policy center, and advisory board for an institute for advanced study, the boards for the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, the public television and radio organization, and Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, just to name a few. All of these organizations do encounter interesting legal issues, but the primary focus is something else. What keeps me sane is singing in a community chorus—the weekly rehearsals, which can be demanding, transport the mind and body to a different realm of discipline and, one hopes, beauty. I do like going to museums and traveling. The Section does provide the chance to travel the U.S.—another benefit of being involved. Suffolk University Law School has had a summer study abroad program at Lund University in Sweden for 16 years, and I have been fortunate enough to teach Comparative Health Law for the program three times. Teaching in Sweden has afforded me a chance to live and work in a different country, to teach foreign students who bring unique perspectives and critiques to the U.S. approach toward financing and delivering health care, and to see another health care system in operation.
Also, since I was 9 years old, I have been baking pies. Watertown, where I live, has a Faire on the Square, in the fall, and an apple pie contest is one of the events. I have entered almost every year since 2001. I have won second place once (beginner’s luck), third place twice, and have won the contest the last two years. Also, I bake triple berry pies for the dessert for the July 4th celebration for the Swedish and American students and faculty in the Lund summer program. I have to bring some things from the U.S. because pies are not really a continental European thing.
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.