Notice & Comment

Meet Rob Quinan, Managing Attorney, Administrative Law Division, by Nina Hart

Meet Rob Quinan, Managing Attorney for the Administrative Law Division of the Office of the Attorney General of Massachusetts.  Below, he discusses his diverse experiences with administration law and advice for attorneys interacting with or hoping to work for government agencies.

1. What led you to a career in law?

I was a Government major in college with a concentration in international relations.  I had thought about trying to enter the Foreign Service and applied to Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.  My father, who is a lawyer, convinced me to apply to Georgetown’s joint JD/MS program.  Once in that program, I discovered that pursuing a law career appealed to me more than a Foreign Service career would.

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

After a short stint in an entry-level law firm job in Washington, DC, which first exposed me to regulatory law issues, I worked for a major Boston law firm as a general commercial litigator for nearly 5 years.  I then spent three years as deputy general counsel to the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families (DCF) before joining the Attorney General’s Administrative Law Division 15 years ago.  DCF operates under an extensive regulatory scheme and conducts hundreds of administrative adjudications each year.  My current job exposes me to administrative law issues on a daily basis, but I gained a deeper appreciation of such issues when I began editing the Manual for Conducting Administrative Adjudicatory Hearings [a copy of which can be accessed for free at].

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

My major field of study in college, combined with my administrative law course in law school, and the fact that administrative law surrounds practically all budding lawyers in Washington, DC, first sparked my interest in administrative law.  The position I took in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Administrative Law Division proved to be an excellent platform for expanding my horizons and experiencing many of the different ways in which administrative law affects the lives of millions of U.S. citizens.

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

Before filing a court pleading that rests on principles of administrative law, take the time to consult a good treatise on administrative law.  The Massachusetts Practice series, for example, includes a three-volume treatise on administrative law.  An inordinate amount of time is wasted advancing arguments that either contravene or do not satisfy basic principles of administrative law.  In any area of the law that’s currently unfamiliar to you, take the time to scope out the lay of the land and view the big picture by consulting treatises or handbooks before delving into the minutiae of the issue that most concerns your client.  Cultivate acquaintances in the legal departments of the agencies you are most likely to deal with.  Join the public law section of your bar association.

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

If you represent a private client or plaintiff challenging an administrative decision, a major challenge is to craft an argument that will overcome most judges’ natural inclination to defer to the greater subject-matter expertise of agency decision-makers.  If you represent a government defendant, an often-daunting challenge in controversial cases is to persuade a reviewing court that the agency’s interpretation of law is correct and reasonable and that the court must defer to it.  Another challenge for all admin law practitioners is to master and then be able to distill cogently the more arcane aspects of the governing legal scheme.  Legislators and regulators are not known to be masters of clear, concise, easy-to-understand language.

6. As someone who has worked in 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 or develop in government work that may not be as crucial in a more traditional litigation practice and vice versa?

Private sector lawyers looking to break into government service should be on the lookout for pro bono opportunities that will bring them into contact with government lawyers and/or familiarize them with public law issues.  For example, an associate interested in child welfare law might sign up for the court-appointed special advocate program, join a foster-care review team, or explore whether the state Office of Child Advocate could use some research assistance.  Join and become active in the public law section of your bar association.  Work on an amicus brief that touches on issues of concern to government entities.  The culture of private law firms usually differs considerably from the public law office environment.  The former is often more bottom-line driven and the latter more issues oriented, so it helps if you can undergo experiences that give you a broader outlook than you’re likely to get as an associate in a law firm.  In the public sector position, you are likely to have greater responsibilities but more flexibility in managing your own time.

7. 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?

Probably nothing beats interning or volunteering in a public law office.  Serving as a research assistant to a professor of administrative law or volunteering to help those responsible for publications in the field, including treatises and the above-mentioned Manual, might also be invaluable opportunities.  Although the opportunities might not arise that frequently, keep your eyes peeled for conferences sponsored by the public law section of your bar association.  Inquire as to whether your law school is associated with any public service fellowship programs.

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

Notwithstanding my decision to veer away from a Foreign Service career, I still enjoy traveling overseas and gaining exposure to foreign languages and cultures.  I’m taking a refresher advanced French class this fall.  I try to watch a couple of foreign language movies each season and I am interested in the music that’s popular overseas.  Closer to home, I enjoy nature hikes, kayaking, swimming, and generally being outdoors in clement weather.  I like to read biographies, historical novels, and all about politics and current affairs.  And I visit museums and the theater fairly regularly.

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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