Meet Veronica Garcia, the Government Relations Director for the Houston Independent School District. Below, she discusses her experiences with advocacy and policy work, and her passion for improving the education system.
1. Where do you work now and what led you to a career in law?
I work for the Houston Independent School District as their Government Relations Director. Before law school I was a school social worker. Through this experience I became passionate about education and I decided to pursue a career in law to have influence over the laws and regulations that govern our public education system.
2. What other experiences with administrative or regulatory law have you had?
Prior to my position with HISD I was the Director of Legal and Policy Services for the Texas Charter Schools Association. Depending on where you are on the political spectrum, I have either now gone to the light or gone over to the dark side. I consider it all as advocacy on behalf of our state’s public education system. Both of these positions have afforded me the opportunity to interact directly with our state legislators and staff, as well as our state’s agencies, and to have input into the policies that regulate our public schools. I also spent time working on the “inside” as the legislative director for a state representative. Learning to navigate legislation at the Texas Capitol, while considering political implications, was an invaluable experience.
3. How did you become interested in pursuing a career in administrative law?
The reason I became interested in a career in administrative law is the very same one that led me to a career in law. Because I already had experience in a career (social work), I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do after law school. I knew that I wanted a career where I would be able to help craft public policy as it related to education.
4. Is there a difference in the skills or mindset needed for an attorney advising a legislature as compared to an attorney representing an organization or agency hoping to shape or needing to implement policies?
One of the biggest differences in mindset as well as skills is that in advising a legislator there must be an appreciation for the political implications of any recommendation. The fact that a particular proposed policy/bill is good public policy is sometimes not enough. The politics of an issue are always in the room. Many people may not want to hear that, and it’s likely what turns off some people to this field. However, it is the reality in which we live. It was a hard lesson that I learned when I first started practicing in this area, but it’s a lesson that once learned, and if you want to continue working in this field, you must always keep in mind.
5. Do you have any advice about “best practices” for attorneys, particularly for those whose work requires frequent interaction with government agencies?
1. Know your issue inside and out: Legislators and their staff are dealing with many different issues, not always having the time to focus and dig deep into any one particular issue. They will turn to you as the expert of your particular field and it’s important to be able to provide them valid, accurate information. This is the information that will help shape public policy.
2. Network/build relationships: This is a business of relationships. That intern one legislative session will be the legislative director in a couple of sessions and chief of staff next. That same person may end up holding elected office. Always treat each person with respect and get to know the people with whom you interact. You’ll find people will be much more willing to help you out when you know them as opposed to walking into their office cold.
3. Keep your word: Always, always, always keep your word. Negotiation is inherent in this line of work and at some point people will have to trust and rely on nothing more than your word. All the information that you know, and all the relationships that you have built, will be worthless if you become known as someone who does not stand by his or her word.
6. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing administrative law practitioners?
Whichever issue you are working to advance most likely has an advocacy group working in direct opposition to you. While this is not different from the traditional practice of law, what is different is that many times it’s not just one group, but several groups with various interests working against you. Then you have to add the legislative officers who are also opposed to your work. It is a challenge to work with all the competing interests to come to an agreed upon piece of legislation. However, reaching a consensus amongst the various stakeholders is an absolute necessity if you’re ever going to get a piece of legislation across the finish line.
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?
If an individual is interested in a career that involves legislative advocacy, a great way to get experience is to land an internship or a legislative aide position in a legislator’s office. This will give the person firsthand experience in the legislative process and help him or her build relationships – two qualities that will make the individual that much more marketable down the road.
8. Outside of the law, what are your favorite activities or hobbies?
I am just coming off of our state’s legislative session and so I’m in the process of remembering what life outside of the Capitol is like. I seem to remember it containing much of the same things that most people like: dinner with friends, going to see live music shows (that’s the Austin in me), and sitting in a coffee shop for hours.
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.