Professional Advice about International Legal Careers

International Law Society – The University of Arizona

Paul Delaney III – Partner, Kyle House Group

Mr. Delaney recently became a Partner at the Kyle House Group, a small international business. He has previously worked at Vinson & Elkins, LLP, USTR, FedEx, and the US Senate.

Can you tell a little about what you currently do?

Currently I’m working with a small international business and consulting firm.  It’s actually a firm that my brother started a couple years ago. I’ve been in the public sector, I’ve been in law firms, I have worked for a big company. So when I was leaving the Senate most recently, I could do an apples to oranges to bananas comparison of where I wanted to go next.  Having the opportunity to work in a law firm, work in the Executive Branch, to work in the Senate, I wanted try to pull all those experiences together. And I thought law practice in a firm again could have been somewhat limiting. When I was with FedEx and saw how they positioned themselves globally, I realized that to be an effective advocate you have to be able to take on a large number of things.

So the current position I ended up taking, I did so because I wanted to get into small business, a more entrepreneurial environment. There are only five of us at our company, so a lot of what I’m doing is on the operational side – hiring, that sort of thing. We’re actually going through the process of hiring people right now.  The firm does some traditional lobbying activities. It also does business consulting and raising venture capital. We are doing a lot of relationship building with for clients foreign governments and NGO’s, with state leaders, and other key foundations.  So this was a chance for me to take my experience in both the public and private sectors and really expand it.

My experience with the law firms is that you can get type casted into one practice. For instance, you might be stuck doing anti-dumping and that’s all you do. You might just be doing international arbitration. Now that’s great if you know exactly what you want to do. The law firm can be great because you’ll have big clients and a lot of support and be able to travel the world. There was the opportunity for me to do that that again, but I decided not to  do that in the end because, having done so many things, I was looking to broaden what I do, not narrow my options.

As far as the companies, as I mentioned I worked for FedEx. I was Senior Attorney of Trade and International Affairs. That job actually had a government relations function with the Executive Branch and foreign governments as well as a legal element. I think that in house can be a really exciting place to do international work as a lawyer because it’s more practical. You know, you’re giving a much wider range of advice. Particularly the kind of work I was doing. I was advising on government action and helping the company assess how institutions like the WTO, or a free trade agreement, can actually be used in a significant way. Also, I was able to work with the operators directly. That was very valuable. You get to work with people in the regional offices and see what their doing. In FedEx it’s almost like the engineering mindset. It’s all about speed. It’s about how to move things faster and how to track themI found that very rewarding. In fact, in what I’m doing now I’m really trying to focus on that: on the more commercial, operational aspects of various trade or customs or investments issues.

What was your path when you graduated law school?

Some good advice I received about law school was to study what you’re interested in and you’ll get taught how to be a lawyer later. I think there’s a lot of truth to that.  Frankly, I didn’t start learning law until I started studying for the bar. My personal interests were in constitutional law and criminal law. So I did a prosecution clinic which I thought was fantastic. And that led me to white-collar criminal defense work in a large firm.

I found that firm life is very much driven by where the firms are based.  So if you’re going into a firm think about that. Think about where the firm’s headquarters are because that’s going to shape the attitude of the firm.  Go in with your eyes wide open to hours and compensation. But I think firms are pretty transparent nowadays with what they expect.

Another peace of advice I was given that I thought was excellent is if you do go the law firm route where you could get paid a bunch of money, live your life as if you’re in public service. Don’t overextend yourself. If you go out and buy the car or take out a big mortgage then you’re stuck. I kept a very basic life style, and really it was easy because of student loans and paying those off. But it gives you the flexibility to make transitions. I was able when Bush won his second term and after three years in my firm, consider public service work. And I had the opportunity to go work in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. It certainly was a pay cut, but I could manage it.  So that’s something to consider if you go the private sector route, particularly the firm route right out of law school, is to be frugal to keep your options open.

So I joined USTR. I was hired to be a staff secretary, which is actually a position in the White House. Now Senator Rob Portman, then Congressman Rob Portman, had become Ambassador Rob Portman, he had worked in the first Bush administration in congressional affairs, and his vision of my position was to be his lawyer for all official actions as U.S. Trade Representative modeled after the White House, where the staff secretary is the last person to approve anything that the President gets to see and makes sure that everything is in order.

So in my position at the USTR, I was able to see everything that came through to the Ambassador’s office. And I was expected to both, from an editorial and legal review, and, over time, a substantive standpoint, review the documents. So it gave me a snap shot of the entire portfolio of USTR. I was soon promoted to Deputy Chief of Staff and took on a broader portfolio of work in the small agency. So I then took on HR and policy roles as well. When Senator Portman moved over to the Office of Management and Budget, I stayed on with the next trade rep and that was a great experience to have served under two cabinet officers with two totally different styles. I mean both are amazing people and mentors.

You hear this a lot, but I think you can learn a tremendous amount in the public sector, particularly in a position like that. I wasn’t technically in the counsel’s office. I was more of a government policy, operations and legal analysis person; I mean I had to use my law degree, but I wasn’t in the general counsel’s office. Those types of opportunities, as a young lawyer, can be very beneficial.

Trade issues are very legalistic. Whether its contract law, whether it’s investment treaties, there’s a lot of lawyering that goes around that work. And once you’re in an administration that is all the administrative law, and more law than you know what to do with. So if you can get into one of those front office jobs you’re going to get exposed to all different sorts of areas. I mean, I had to learn human resources law, civil service law, all sorts of that kind of stuff.

So that job ended with the end of the Bush Administration, and, through some connections, I got hooked up with FedEx who was setting up an office in DC to do government and international relations. So I helped set that office up and worked there for about three years. Again, it’s an outstanding company.

I mentioned this before, but in house is different than the law firm. It’s a better lifestyle. It’s much more predictable and structured. You know you’re compensation is based much more on how the company does so, at times, its not quite as financially rewarding as the law firm is. But with what you gain in terms of your quality of life, it’s much better. Now I worked very hard even when I didn’t have to. But if you’re worried about quality of life I would definitely advise looking into in house.  There is always a ton of international work going on in the large international companies.

That was an amazing experience. I was able to work with the US government, foreign governments, trade groups, I traveled a lot, and I focused on the concrete international operational issues of the company. Again, that was very useful. I actually wasn’t looking to leave, but Senator Hatch took over as ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee and I had spent all that time at the USTR working on the three pending free trade agreements and WTO issues and while at FedEx I worked very hard to get those things finally moving. So the opportunity opened up on Senator Hatch’s staff as an International Trade Counsel and see how those things worked on the legislative side of things. That experience was invaluable. I committed to go for one Congress, which is what I did.

I had received some good advice there, which was to work on one small bill from start to finish and see it get passed, work on a big bill, start to finish and draft a bill. During the 112th Congress we passed the three pending free trade agreements, got a small bill passed fixing CAFTA, renewing a provision of AGOA, and addressing Burma sanctions issues, and we granted permanent normal trade relations for Russia as it was set to join the WTO, and I co-authored with the Baucus staff a customs reauthorization bill. So I was able to check all the boxes.

But then I, frankly, had a little girl on the way and I decided that it was time to pool all those experiences together. And, again, that’s why I’m where I’m at now because it maximizes my flexibility to do different kinds of work. It’s been fun. Being a small business has it’s own challenges. I mean, I had to learn all the regulations just to run the day-to-day operations.

You’ve had an impressive ride. It seems that the common thread is that you’re doing what you want to do. What advice do you have for students coming from academia into the job market?

Do study what you find interesting. Be pretty flexible coming out of law school. If you do find an area of interest — we’ll take international in this case: there are so many avenues you could pursue that will allow you to do international work. Whether that’s in the public sector, the law firms, within companies,.or at NGO’s.

My advice would be to find issues you find compelling and go find a group of people that are talented in that area. I’ve been very lucky to have had great mentors and work with great teams. I know what you can accomplish working together.

That’s actually probably the most valuable thing in all of my experiences. In fact, coming out of law school I would focus on that. Take inventory of whom you’re going to work with.  In a firm, find out who the partners are, who the associates are. Find out if you can vibe with them. On the flip side, working for the government, talk to the people you’ll be working with. Because, even in the “perfect job”, which on paper is exactly what you want to do, if you don’t spend some time with the people it might not work out.

I didn’t set out on my career to be what I do today. Something my father told me when I was coming out of law school and choosing which firm is that there are no bad decision. Either what you pick is going to be your calling and you’ll spend 30 or 40 years there and retire or it won’t be. And if it’s not, once you assess that, take the time to do something that you want to do. There is a risk for people coming out of law school to feel pressured to do this or that – to join the most prestigious firm, and then they find themselves in those environments and they don’t like it. Well, you can change that.

There is so much you can do with a law degree. Don’t get stuck. If you do, that’s your decision. Now, it is hard to change and that’s why you should do your due diligence on the front end. Find out about the people. Ask yourself how much you want to work. There are a lot of people who work more hours than you’ll ever work. That doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily better than you at what they do, but if you’re in an environment that that’s what the premium is and that’s it, and that’s not really your thing, then you may want to find something different to pursue your interests.

So always be flexible and keep your ears open. A lot of these things that I did I made people aware that I was ready to move and then I was patient. But when the right opportunity comes you have to run with it. It’s not all going to be perfectly linear, but that doesn’t mean that you should become frustrated.

Interview taken September 16, 2013.

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This entry was posted on October 17, 2013 by .
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