Professional Advice about International Legal Careers

International Law Society – The University of Arizona

Everett Eissenstat – Chief International Trade Counsel, US Senate

Mr. Eissenstat currently serves as the Chief International Trade Counsel to Senator Hatch, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

What is that you do in your job?

I advise the ranking member on trade policy and work with committee members to help them follow and understand international trade issues, including on-going trade negotiations.  I also draft legislation, help make policy decisions and negotiate policy positions. We also interface with the Administration in international trade negotiations.

As you know, the Constitution grants authority over tariffs to Congress. The Constitution also vests the authority to conduct foreign policy with the President. Now trade policy is kind of like a hybrid: you can’t have 535 members of congress speaking with one voice to foreign countries on trade policy — the President has to do it. Yet, he can’t negotiate tariffs or make any changes to US law without Congress approving and actually implementing them. So, the communication between the Administration and the Congress on trade policy is pretty intense. I suspect the relationship between the Finance Committee and the Administration’s trade agencies is somewhat different than the relationship other committees’ have with their agency counterparts, whether it be the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) or some other entity. Because the Finance Committee has authority over tariffs and trade, we work a lot with the US Trade Representative’s Office (USTR) to help develop negotiating texts and negotiating positions for different trade agreements. That’s a lot of what we do.

Can you outline a day in the life of Everett Eissenstat?

The thing about the Senate, and really the Congress in general, is that there is no predictability. There are times when things can be very quiet. For instance, today I’ll spend most of the day reviewing negotiating positions on a draft bill. I’ll try to discern where our landing spots and priorities are. But really, it depends.

As a Senate Committee staffer there are a lot of times when you’re not on. But when you are on, you have to be ready – you have to know what you’re talking about. There’s no time to get up to speed. All of a sudden a bill can be on the floor and if you haven’t done your homework you’re not prepared to provide policy guidance. So we spend an enormous amount of time amount of time just preparing — keeping up with issues, listening to people’s concerns, and following on-going trade negotiations.

One of the things the Senator I work for, Senator Hatch, is very adamant about is that we reach out to members (of the Committee) and address their issues if we can. He likes to have a collaborative product.

We also deal with market access issues and constituent problems. Occasionally coalition groups will come in, let’s say they represent a particular sector and are concerned about getting good access to the EU market during our trade negotiations with the EU. So they want Congress to be aware of their concerns and they want to make sure that we know it’s a priority. Really it’s a big mix.

There is a lot of reading, a lot of meetings, a lot of drafting. But as far as the issues go it’s really widespread. Right now, as far as live bills, we have a customs reauthorization bill, which is a completely different animal than the trade promotion authority bill, which is totally different than the GSP bill, which is the preference program, and they’re all very different. You know we also have a trade preference bill for Africa. They are all very different. So any particular day you might be focused on a different element of one of those bills. And then within each of those elements there are complicated, specific issues that you have to work through.

The USTR has a number of different offices divided by geographic regions. Does your one office basically have all trade issues of the whole world?

Yes. The Senator currently has four permanent staff members. They are divided by issue or region. But one of the biggest differences between the work here and the work in the Administration is that Congress gives guidance and drafts laws, but does not actually administer those laws. No matter how good the law is written, as a Congressional staffer you rarely get to the level of administering the law where you have full responsibility for its execution. So there’s a high degree of granularity in the Administration where you’re really honing down into the specifics of the law and its regulations. For example, let’s take a market access problem in a particular country. So someone comes in and says I can’t get my dairy into a particular country. So what we’ll do is look at the law, see if there’s a violation of the trade agreement, we would call USTR and ask what they’re doing about the problem, we might do a letter, do a joint letter, we might talk to an ambassador, but at some point we’ll reach the limit of our power. Congress can’t effectively go down and negotiate with another country and sit across the table from them, but the USTR can. They will go down, literally fly down and talk directly to their counterparts about the problem. Maybe point out that there is a potential violation of the trade agreement, suggest ways it should be solved — they have to actually come to a resolution. They have to fix it. It can take a long, long time to resolve issues like that.

Coming out of law school, did you know that you wanted to be the chief international trade counsel to the Senate?

No. When I came out of law school I wanted to do international law. I went to a law firm in Texas that did a lot of bankruptcy litigation and also had an international practice. But the international portfolio was thin, so I ended up doing a lot of commercial litigation and bankruptcy work. I was about a year into that,  and even though Dallas is a great place to live, I started thinking that I if I didn’t do something different, I would end up driving a BMW and living in North Dallas doing bankruptcy work.  There is nothing wrong with that. But that’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to do international law. Then one day my wife suggested that we just move to Washington.  She had a job that allowed her to still get paid and move to DC — actually her boss really liked the idea of having someone in the DC area. So, we moved up here and I still had no idea what I wanted to do in international law. There are so many different kinds of international law. You know, you have public international law at the State Department, there’s anti-dumping at the Department of Commerce, there’s environmental law at EPA, there’s customs, there’s sanitary- phytosanitary – there are so many types of law. And that’s just in the Executive branch. Of course, there’s also working for law firms, investor-state dispute settlement, each very different, specific areas of law. But I didn’t know any of that. So I networked. I talked to a lot of people. Usually it amounts to nothing, but you do get to meet people and learn a great deal.  I met with someone from the Ways and Means Committee staff who suggested that I talk to another person in the general counsel’s office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office. Because I have a very strong background in Latin America she said that I should go and talk to someone in the Latin American shop. So I went there and they asked if I wanted to do an internship and I said sure. I was willing to work for free and did for quite a while. For many people with a law degree I am sure that thought is pretty depressing. You know, you did all that work and, you passed the bar and did well — It’s not like I did not succeed in law school. I did fine. I was on Law Review and at the top of my class — but there are a million people like you. So, you have to pay your dues. I worked there for a long time before someone in the Congressional affairs shop told me about an opening on the Hill. I really had no interest in working on the Hill. But a job opened up with a member of Congress, Jim Kolbe, who is very well-known in international trade. He represented Arizona and his district was on the border with Mexico.  My background in Latin America and the experience I gained at USTR helped set me apart from other candidates.  It turned out to be a great fit. So I worked for him for five years and it was fantastic. And then after that a committee slot opened up in the Senate. I came over here and interviewed and got the job and I eventually became chief trade counsel and did that for five years. I then went over to USTR where I was the AUSTR, Assistant to the USTR for the Americas for five years, and then I came back here in 2010, so I’ve been here for about two and a half years. Working on the Hill held no interest for me, but in retrospect it has been a really great place to be and I was actually very lucky to have the opportunity.

What are the attributes that you’re looking for in the people you hire?

Well, the decision about who will serve on Committee staff is up to the Senator.  But in looking at candidates to recommend there are a number of key factors. First, if anyone thinks that they’re going to come in and get hired solely on their credentials they’re wrong. I mean it’s great that you did well in law school. It’s great that you won all sorts of awards. That certainly shows talent. But at the end of the day what we really want to know is can you file? Can you write? Can you write quickly? Do you get along well with others? And are you available now? Because when you need somebody you need them right away. But really, the most important thing is the ability to write. If you can write you’re going to do well. If you can’t, you’re going to have problems. You can’t be a good lawyer and not be able to write well.

And you have to be prepared for a job you feel that you overqualified. In fact, in many ways this is not a typical law job. Many lawyers may end up in a job that is not a traditional law job. Many people thrive in a traditional law firm setting.  They are quite happy to sit in a law firm for years researching issues and writing briefs. Some people are better at it than others, but, really, you need a special, I don’t know, a special discipline to lock yourself into a library for 12 hours a day. Most people don’t want to do that. But it is a big issue for some students, and it was a big issue for me. I mean, I felt that I didn’t want to take a non-traditional law job. But, a lot of lawyers go into policy work. And even at USTR you have many people who work at the general counsel’s office who eventually want to get into policy work – it can be much more interesting. Though, don’t get me wrong, traditional international law practice is very interesting too.

Do you have any parting advice for up and coming law students who want to get into international law or international policy?

I do. First you should learn another language. And I think that a study abroad is really important – and not just at Oxford. Actually, first off, if anyone has the opportunity to travel overseas for an extended period before they get a job they should do it.  Once they get married and get a job they’re not going to be able to do that again. It’s a bunch of fun and you learn a lot.

Second, you will get a job. Don’t stress. You will get a job. And if you need to add to your credentials, go volunteer. You know, spend six months in Angola or Spain or China or wherever – you’ll never have that opportunity again.

Third, try to think about who you want to be tomorrow, not what you need today. Take stock of who it is that you admire. Like let’s say that you’re super interested in diplomacy. So you take a handful of people, you know famous diplomats like Kissinger and other exemplary statesmen, and you study them and you find out what they did and what you need to do to be that person. But realize that it’s not a straight shot, you build your skills over time. You know, people look at successful people and say “Wow! Well that just happened to them.” Realize that everybody that built something started from nothing. Henry Ford, Disney, everybody. They started with an idea and it took a lot of hard work and persistence over a sustained period of time to build their dream. That’s what I truly believe in. And most people today don’t believe that. They just believe that they’re supposed to get that great job, get this money, but the world doesn’t work that way. You have to create your own success. It is up to the individual. Having a vision of who you want to be is important because you don’t have a lot of time. So you need to focus on building those things that will help you be the kind of person you want to be, whatever that is. And if you do that, you will be successful.

Interview taken September 13, 2013

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This entry was posted on October 17, 2013 by .
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