Notice and Comment is pleased to do its first ever two-part feature of an administrative law power couple, Ted and Helen Boutrous. Mr. Boutrous is a partner at Gibson, Dunn& Crutcher LLP where he co-chairs the firm’s Appellate and Constitutional Law Group. The National Law Journal recently listed the group as one of the top 20 appellate practices in its annual Appellate Hot List report and named Ted one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the nation. Dr. Helen Boutrous is the Chair of the History and Political Science Department at Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles. She 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. 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. For the first part of our feature, Ted discusses some of the values that helped shape his career and critical issues facing the legal community. Stay tuned for part two with Dr. Boutrous next week!
1. You left the University of North Dakota after two years and took some time off. What led you to a career in law from there?
Society tells us that we need to know what we want to do when we’re really young. I originally thought I wanted to be a writer or a journalist. I then took a break from college which was really healthy for me. As I got older, I became more focused and eventually studied political science at Arizona State. While there, I took legal philosophy and Supreme Court classes and became fascinated with the law. My father was a lawyer and a great inspiration to me. I went on to attend law school at the University of San Diego.
After receiving my law degree, I was ready to jump right into work. I had a clear vision that I wanted to work on Supreme Court cases. I was fortunate that Gibson Dunn had the kind of environment where I was able to do that very early in my career.
2. You mentioned in an interview that your appellate and constitutional law practice informs your work in media, entertainment and technology? Could you discuss that a little more?
I’ll start with a great example that’s in the news now. As I’ve written about here and here, I am obsessed with the recent government leak investigations, including the ones involving Fox News’ James Rosen and the government subpoenaing the Associated Press’ phone records. There is a fundamental tension when “we the people” cede authority to elected officials to run the government. Some matters that have national security implications must be kept secret, but at the same time we have to be able to scrutinize the government’s decisions as part of our democratic system of self-government. It is legitimate for the government to investigate its own people for leaking, but hard to imagine a scenario where it is justified to go after a journalist. Protections of the press are meant to protect their ability to report news and inform the people. The government must figure out how to avoid leaks, but once the information is released, you can’t take it out on the press.
On the other hand, I’ve also represented clients and companies in situations where there is media attention on them and it can be challenging. Because I have represented journalists, I think I bring a certain sensitivity to both sides that enables me to be helpful to reporters and do the best job I can for my clients.
3. What do you enjoy most about practicing law?
I enjoy dealing with fundamental legal problems that impact society. I’ve been fortunate to work on matters that have significant political and social consequences, like the Proposition 8 case. Law is one of the few professions that combine theories and abstract ideas with real world activities. It crosses over almost all aspects of our lives from commercial to political. I’m lucky that I have a great platform to practice and great people to work with.
4. How has your practice changed over the years?
Substantively a different area of law explodes on the scene every few years. A decade ago, punitive damages dominated litigation, now its class actions. As I get more senior, I am able to spend more time in court, which I enjoy. The greatest development in my career is being able to develop a fabulous team of partners and associates. I work with a superb group at Gibson Dunn which allows me to do so much more exciting work.
5. What are some of the critical issues facing the legal community right now?
One of the greatest challenges facing large and mid-size firms is ensuring that we are able to develop associates so we focus a lot of our attention on professional development. At Gibson Dunn, we are also focused on diversity issues and that’s something I feel very strongly about. We are looking at ways to provide associates with multiple paths to success. We want to be able to be nimble and flexible to the extent possible so we’re able to maximize our greatest assets, our attorneys.
6. What advice would you give to aspiring lawyers on how to have a successful career in the law?
When I was younger, my propensity for long-term planning was not the greatest so I didn’t script out every phase of my career. I have always tried to stay true to myself and pursue opportunities that really attract me. I’ve also had a few lucky breaks; you can’t underestimate the value of that. And when the opportunities presented, I worked hard to take advantage of them.
There are also broader life lessons that are applicable to finding success in the law. It’s important to love what you’re doing. Prior to coming to a law firm, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like a corporate environment. I was lucky I had the freedom and flexibility to rotate through various practice groups and get a sense of what I was and wasn’t good at and things I really enjoyed doing. Do what you like best and take advantage of any opportunities that will give you the ability to pursue your strengths.
Attorneys should also stay flexible. The great thing about the legal field is that there is room for multiple paths to success. Society tends to put too much of a premium on pursuing one path through life. Sometimes you have to follow the evidence where it leads. You may end up finding happiness and success in an area that you might not have ever predicted. At Gibson Dunn we encourage attorneys to pursue opportunities that will round out their professional and legal skills. Happiness and success can organically occur by focusing on what is meaningful to you.
7. Outside of the law, what are your favorite activities or hobbies?
I love to read fiction and journalism, watch movies, and hang out with my wife Helen.
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.