Las Vegas Law Firm Shakes It Up With New Policy Analyst Hire
After serving two sessions in the Nevada state legislature as the legislative assistant for Senator Aaron Ford, a Democrat who became the Senate minority leader last session and serves as majority leader this year, Lauren Brooks learned a lot about the workings of state government. She also cultivated many important relationships on both sides of the political aisle, impressed lawmakers and their staffs with her broad knowledge and engaging personality and, frankly, made a name for herself in policy circles in Carson City and across the state. Simply put, she’s a hot commodity. So when Brooks, a non lawyer, left government and was hired by the conservative Las Vegas-based law firm of McDonald Carano Wilson as a policy analyst in its government affairs practice group, the move created quite a stir in the corridors of the statehouse.
“When I told legislators, Republicans and Democrats alike, that we had hired Lauren, the response I received from them was overwhelmingly supportive,” says Susan Fisher, also a non lawyer who is a vice president in the firm’s government affairs group. “They said, ‘Wow, that’s a great catch.’ Lauren’s got a PR and journalism background, as I do, which gives us a different spin on the legislative process than someone with a political science [or legal] background.”
Clearly, the lawyers and other members of McDonald Carano value the experience and behind-the-scenes perspective that Brooks offers to them and their clients. “Lauren brings an element of diversity and a different sort of relationship with Senator Ford and some of the other members of the caucus that the rest of us just don’t have,” Fisher adds. “She worked hand-in-hand with the caucus members and the minority leader, who’s now the majority leader. He trusts her. She’s friends with him and his wife and family. He would take her along to meetings with lobbyists and their clients. She got to know a lot of the lobbyists.”
Fisher says that while Brooks has only been at McDonald Carano Wilson since late January and is still “getting up to speed,” the information she gets from her connections inside the legislature is proving to be very valuable to McDonald Carano clients. “Sometimes it’s good to have a spy in the building,” she adds with a laugh.
Recently Of Counsel talked with Brooks about her career, experience on staff in the legislature, the different perspective she provides the partnership as an African-American woman, non lawyer, and former staff member of a Democrat as well as other topics. What follows is that edited interview.
From LA to Alabama to Vegas
Of Counsel: Lauren, you’re from Los Angeles. What influenced your decision to attend Stillman College in Alabama, and what did you do after you graduated?
Lauren Brooks: My church gave me a scholarship, but I had to attend a Presbyterian school so I chose Stillman College. After graduation I interned at NBC in Birmingham. I moved back to the West Coast and started working in television at the NBC station in Las Vegas.
OC: You received a dual degree in journalism and English at Stillman. What was it that prompted you to get into government work?
LB: I got into government work kind of by default, as a volunteer for a friend. I ended up running his campaign and now he is senate majority leader in Nevada. I spent two [legislative] sessions with him. In doing volunteer work, I became very connected and very engaged in the entire process. Now I’m working in the government affairs practice group here at McDonald Carano. I started about a month ago [in late January] before the legislative session.
OC: I’m sure you worked on a lot of very important issues and bills. When you think about your time working for Senator Ford, what comes to mind as something that was particularly rewarding or challenging, or something you saw that made you think, “Wow, this is incredible or special”?
LB: During my first session we were both new; we were freshmen. The second year he was a minority leader so it’s been rewarding seeing him go from being in the minority to being in the majority because I’m proud to know that I walked this path with him. Now Nevada is a citizen’s legislature. They don’t get paid full-time while they’re here. They actually lose money sometimes. It’s awesome to see these leaders in both their personal and their professional lives, and I was amazed to see the selflessness of elected officials in Nevada. I was so happy to be a part of helping them.
One thing that made me say, “wow, this is incredible” was seeing one of Senator Ford’s teenage sons come before the legislature last spring and testify on a body-cam bill, which would require the police to wear cameras. His son’s testimony was so emotional and occurred at a time when the Black Lives Matter [organization and activity was first prominent in the media] and when there were all of these killings. The legislators were looking at him, not as the son of a senator, but as a 14-year-old boy who was willing to get up and testify on behalf of a bill.
The bill passed, and I honestly believe that it did pass because that young man got up there and spoke from his heart. 1 saw and heard him talking to his dad in the hallway before his testimony say, “Dad, I want to do this. I need to do this.”
And the senator said, “Go ahead son, whatever you want to do. If you decide to change your mind, that’s okay.” It was quite a moment.
OC: That’s a great story and what an effort by a teenager, Senator Ford, you, and everyone else who worked to get the bill passed. Congratulations. That must have been very satisfying to see the yea votes outnumber the nay votes.
LB: Yes, it was.
A Good (and Unlikely) Fit
OC: Just to shift gears, here, Lauren, let me ask you this: Why did you decide to leave government and come to work for a private law firm?
LB: I was interested in utilizing my knowledge and background in working two legislative sessions and I enjoyed working with McDonald Carano while I was staff for Senator Ford. I thought it was time for me to step out and felt that I had enough under my belt to move forward as a governmental affairs lobbyist and McDonald Carano is one of the top firms and they’ve got great clients. The firm seems to match my personality. It’s a good fit.
OC: What was the firm looking for when they were hiring for this position? What sort of role do you think you are fulfilling that perhaps the other policy analyst at the firm does not have?
LB: I think that I’m a little bit different because number one, I’m not a lawyer. Number two, I worked as staff for the past two sessions, so I have great relationships on both sides of the aisle, both Democrats and Republicans. I also have relationships through working in the leadership office. I have relationships with leaders.
OC: You’ve been working at the firm for about a month now. What do you find challenging about working for a law firm, in this new environment?
LB: I would say it was, and I want to put emphasis on the word “was,” intimidating because I’m not a lawyer and don’t have a law degree. This is new territory for me. It was also a challenge learning the structure of the law firm.
OC: Lauren, what gives you satisfaction in working with your new colleagues?
LB: I like that I’m able to work on legislation that will [advance] Nevada. That’s really important to me. I like that I’m able to connect with the clients and the issues that I’m passionate about and get clients to be aware of some issues or bills that they might not know about. I like connecting those dots to know that I have had a role in some of this legislation for Nevada. It’s very fulfilling.
OC: So you’re really taking a civic-minded approach into private practice.
Law Firm Takes a “Big Chance”
OC: As you probably know, the legal profession has changed a lot in the last five years or so and really began changing in one very important way 10 to 15 years ago, and that is, the idea of bringing non lawyers into the law firm environment for very good reasons. Is this something that the managing partner or hiring partner talked with you about and told you that they wanted a non lawyer working in your position?
LB: No one talked to me about that but I think it was a very smart move on their end.
OC: [laughing] I think so, too.
LB: I think some law firms are afraid to take risks. I think they took a big chance on me because, as I said I don’t have a law degree. I’m a minority. I’m a woman. And, I also worked for a certain political party. So I bring a completely different perspective in so many different areas to the firm.
OC: You worked for Senator Ford who is a Democrat. So then McDonald Carano is a Republican firm?
LB: Yes, I’ve been told they’ve been heavily conservative. But I think they recognize and respect the different perspectives and relationships and the value that I bring. They also recognize that I bring a different skill set to the firm’s government affairs team that they haven’t been able to tap into yet.
OC: It’s really interesting that they hired you, someone who is, as you pointed out, different from other people in the firm. I have to give them credit for broadening their scope of things.
LB: That’s one reason why I said it was intimidating at first. No one was like me in any shape or form. But I love it. [laughter] And I know that, as a non lawyer, I’ll never make partner, but that’s okay.
OC: Are you the only African-American at the firm?
LB: l am.
OC: Well, again, kudos to them for reaching out and working to become more diverse. I think that’s something that law firms need to continue to work on. It’s gotten a little better but certainly government and the corporate world are both far ahead of law firms in terms of diversification. This was a step in the right direction.
LB: Yes, and both of our leaders in this legislative session, the majority leader and the speaker of the house, are African-Americans.
OC: And you worked for one of them and are familiar with the other as well as with the legislature and the work they have in front of them this session. What type of work are you doing for McDonald? Are you looking at legislation and advising the firm and its clients? And if so, what types of legislation?
LB: All of the above. We have 17 clients, and right now I’m making sure that everything is balanced and offering my input on a lot of different legislation, ensuring that our elected officials are aware of our clients and making sure that our clients know all of our elected officials. I work to bring different issues to the table that they might not have thought of before. Right now, I have my hands in every issue and I’m working with every client.
OC: Are these clients the sort of traditional Las Vegas companies in such industries as hospitality and restaurants?
LB: We have clients in many different industries. We have Microsoft, we have the Raiders, NRG Energy, and a lot of clients that are based or operate in Nevada.
OC: Do many law firms have non lawyer policy analyst working with the government affairs practice group?
LB: I don’t think so. When I started I was like, “what is my title going to be?” They said it would be government affairs specialist, but when I actually started and got my card it said policy analyst. A lot of the policy analysts are attorneys, so I think what we’re doing is kind of different.
A Certain Comfort Level
OC: Do you think that more law firms should reach out and hire non lawyer policy analysts? And if so, why? You touched on this earlier, Lauren. Maybe you could elaborate on it.
LB: Absolutely. For one reason a lot of people feel more comfortable talking to non lawyers. They tend to tense up and speak more carefully when they talk to lawyers; they may not be as open. I think non lawyers bring a non legalistic, [more accessible] approach.
I managed to befriend a lot of the elected officials, both Republicans and Democrats, and their staffs. I’ve learned a lot from them and so I try to educate our clients in a way that might not be structured the same as the way lawyers structure [their information].
OC: When you look into 2017 what do you hope to achieve on behalf of the clients of the firm and for the firm itself?
LB: I hope to help pass some meaningful legislation. You can lobby and talk all day but unless you pass some beneficial bills in the favor of your clients, you’re not doing your job. I want to walk away on June 5th, the end of the session, with a couple of passed bills that benefit Nevada and our clients.
OC: What are you going to be doing after the session is over and the legislation has recessed? What will be keeping you busy on June 6th and over the summer?
LB: During the summer, I’ll be focusing more on local and federal regulatory issues. One of the reasons I came to McDonald was because I like that they did local, state, and federal work. Another reason was because this is a great law firm. I’m happy I’m here.
By Steven T. Taylor
Of Counsel Magazine
April 1, 2017
Vol. 36, No 4
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