By Amy SpoonerMarch 17, 2016
Whether government service is a long-held goal or an unexpected detour, it can be a highlight of your career, said Aaron Lewis, '05, Kevyn Orr, '83, and Christopher Taylor, '97, during the March 10 Pogue Panel at Michigan Law. All three have worked in the private and public sectors—some by design, some by kismet.
"I failed miserably at my career plan," said Orr, who is partner-in-charge of the Washington, D.C., office of Jones Day and most recently served as the City of Detroit's emergency manager. Following law school, Orr rose from litigator to shareholder at a Miami firm. "I planned to spend my entire career in private practice in Miami," he told the audience, but the 1991 Persian Gulf War pushed Orr toward civil service. "The government is us, and we all have an obligation to serve in some way," he said. Orr joined the litigation department of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and then the Resolution Trust Corporation, where he was the agency's chief lawyer overseeing the Whitewater investigation. He then worked for the Department of Justice in the Executive Office for United States Trustees. "I got a classic case of 'Potomac Fever,'" Orr said of his time in D.C. "When I gave back to the community, I saw that I could help make things better."
As the mayor of Ann Arbor, Taylor encouraged students to never doubt that strong power to affect change. "I never considered public service because I didn't understand how I could ever get involved," said Taylor, who explained that a conversation with "the right person at the right time" convinced him to run for the Ann Arbor City Council in 2008. "Listen to people you trust; they often know you better than you know yourself," he advised the students.
Lewis comes from a family of distinguished public servants. "I was always taught that I had a responsibility to serve, but I didn't know what form that service would take. If I had been better at predicting, perhaps I would have prepared myself for something resembling Kevyn's job," the Detroit native said about Orr's role in guiding the city through bankruptcy. After law school, Lewis joined Covington & Burling LLP, in part because of the firm's history of encouraging its lawyers to do public service work. At Covington, Lewis worked with Eric Holder, who was a partner at the firm, and when Holder became attorney general, he asked Lewis to join him as a counsel. Lewis spent six years with the Department of Justice—first as a member of Holder's staff and later as an assistant U.S. attorney. He now is a special counsel in Covington's recently opened L.A. office. "You think you have your career planned out, and then the next attorney general offers you a unique opportunity to serve," Lewis told the students. "Prepare yourself for the opportunities that will present themselves because of the education you received at Michigan and the network that you're a part of. You may not be able to predict every step of your career but you can make sure that you're well prepared when the chance to serve arrives."
But embracing those opportunities might require you to set aside your preconceptions, said Taylor. "When I was a law student, I'm pretty sure that working at a small firm wasn't part of my definition of success. But Professor J.B. White advised our class to reflect on what makes us happy and maximize it. That stuck with me. I am happy with the close relationships that small-town practice provides, and the flexibility to be involved in local government. It is satisfying in ways that as a 1L I could never have imagined." Taylor splits his mayoral duties with serving as a partner at the Ann Arbor firm of Hooper Hathaway PC.
In addition to the personal satisfaction, the panelists also encouraged students to think broader. "As students and graduates of this law school, you are the elite in our society," Orr told the audience. "So you have a responsibility to make sure that our society works well."
The Richard W. Pogue Law Leaders Panel is sponsored by the Office of Development and Alumni Relations annually, through a special fund created by Richard W. Pogue, '53, former managing partner of Jones Day.
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