Pauline A. Schneider
Interview by Kathryn Alfisi
Pauline A. Schneider was with the law firm of Hunton & Williams for 21 years before joining Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP as a partner on September 26, 2006. She specializes in public finance. Her clients include state and local governments as well as investment bankers and underwriters. Before joining Hunton in 1987, she worked for government at the local and federal level, serving in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs during the Carter administration and in the District of Columbia Office of Intergovernmental Relations under Mayor Marion Barry. In 1994–95 she served as the first African American woman president of the District of Columbia Bar. Schneider received her master’s degree in urban studies from Howard University and law degree from Yale Law School. [Introduction revised October 4, 2006.]
WASHINGTON LAWYER: Where did you grow up?
I’m from a small town in southern New Jersey called Bridgeton, and I went to Glassboro State College in New Jersey, which most people had never heard of until President Johnson and Soviet Premier Kosygin had a summit there.
I first came to Washington in the summer of 1964 as part of the Foreign Affairs Scholars Program that was funded by the Ford Foundation and designed to get more minorities into the foreign service. Originally that’s what I thought I might like to do. I did graduate work in international relations at Syracuse, but while I was there I got engaged and was thrown out of the program because at the time our government would not take married women into the foreign service.
I got married, and my husband at the time had military obligations, so at first we went to Texas and then we went to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. When my husband went to Vietnam, I came back to New Jersey and lived there for a year before he returned, and we wound up coming back to Washington.
Did you have any interest in being a lawyer when you were younger,
or did you have other ambitions?
I’m one of those lucky people who often happen to be standing on the right street corner at the right time. I had a cousin who lived in the Washington area, and she saw an announcement in the newspaper about the Foreign Affairs Scholars Program and sent it to me. I thought it looked like fun and would be an opportunity to travel and represent the government overseas, so I decided to apply and was selected for the program. It wasn’t something that I had thought through. It was accidental.
After I finished undergraduate school and did a year of graduate work, I got married and then went off for two years doing other things. When I was in Fort Leonard Wood, for instance, I taught. Sort of. At the time, notwithstanding the fact that I had an undergraduate degree in education, the school system wouldn’t hire me to be a regular teacher, so I had study hall each and every day. I got permission to start a student newspaper (I had been involved in journalism when I was in college), and when the kids were in study hall they would work on the newspaper. So that was my way of keeping busy and doing something more interesting than babysitting kids who were in study hall.
When my husband returned from Vietnam in 1968, we went to Washington and I started to work for an organization called the Metropolitan Applied Research Center, which was an action-oriented research group. What we tried to do was develop practical solutions to real problems, particularly urban problems. The organization was headed by Dr. Kenneth Clark, who was a very well known social psychologist whose studies on the effects of race on young children were mentioned in the Brown v. Board of Education decision. The organization was hired by the District’s public schools to create something called the Academic Achievement Plan, which was designed to improve the reading, written, math, and oral communication skills of District students. That was fun, and I enjoyed doing it, but the politics weren’t fun. We talked about merit pay and things like that, which the unions were vigorously opposed to, and while the school board generally supported the approach we recommended, the union basically killed the implementation of the plan.
How frustrating was it to have to deal with politics?
I’ve been quoted as saying I hate politics, and I thought all politicians were crooks, but the thing that I came to understand and appreciate in Washington is that, on a fundamental level, everything is political, and it is a political process that you must engage in if you want to achieve your objective. So while it was a difficult lesson, it was an important lesson. I don’t necessarily enjoy it, but I think I’ve learned to negotiate the political process pretty well.
What else did you work on at the research center?
Another thing we were involved with was developing a proposal to the Ford Foundation to get funding for something now known as the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. This was in the late 1960s, shortly after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, when there were a number of blacks being elected to public office in towns, particularly in the South. These officials didn’t have role models, they didn’t have mentors, and they didn’t have the basic information on how you do things. So the Joint Center was designed as a resource for these newly elected black officials, providing technical assistance, providing information, providing research for new mayors, new council members, and new county officials, and that sort of thing. The Joint Center is still around, but as the number of black elected officials increased and became more sophisticated, the Joint Center expanded its focus to include economic and political empowerment in a generalized way, and not simply devoted to the elected officials.
When did you decide to go to law school?
While I was working at the Metropolitan Applied Research Center I decided to go back to school and get a master’s degree in urban studies, which was part of new program developed at Howard University. I earned my degree in 1972. In 1973 I separated from my husband and had two young children to take care of, so I started to think about needing a marketable skill. While I was at the research center I had the opportunity to volunteer for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, where I helped do some reapportionment work. For instance, there had been an annexation in Richmond of some of Henrico and Chesterfield counties, the effect of which was to increase the white population of Richmond. Because Richmond was in an area covered by the Voting Rights Act, there had to be efforts to minimize the dilution of the black vote. We tried to maximize the potential that black votes wouldn’t be diluted by creating districts that had, for instance, a majority black voting age population.
Through the Lawyers’ Committee I also helped redraw district lines in South Carolina after the 1970 census and did a little bit of work redrawing district lines in New Jersey. It was these experiences with voting issues that led me to decide that I might want to go to law school. Working with the Lawyers’ Committee piqued my interest in law and helped in my understanding of law as a tool for social change.
When I entered law school I actually thought I would be a civil rights lawyer, although after my first year I clerked for a large firm in San Francisco. As I was thinking about what I wanted to do after law school, however, I decided that it was probably better to go to a law firm first to get the training, because many public interest firms had so little resources to devote to training. As often is the case with me—I got into a law firm and then I went into the government—I got a little distracted.
What was your law school experience like?
I tried to view law school like a nine-to-five job. I had two children, ages three and seven, when I started school. My daughter was going to a Montessori preschool and my son was in elementary school. I made an arrangement with one of my neighbors, whose son was in the same Montessori preschool as my daughter, that I would take the kids in the morning and she would pick them up at noon. I had a woman who came to my house from noon to six every day so she was there when my daughter came home at lunchtime.
When I wasn’t in class, I was in the library or working in the admissions office. As with a job, I would leave home every morning at the same time, and when I wasn’t in class, I was doing something productive. I would come home, fix dinner, spend some time with the children, and after I put the kids to bed I would study or read. I tried really hard never to get behind and always to read ahead because, number one, I am one of those people who learn so much better when I’ve already read something, and number two, it was hard for me to catch up because I didn’t have huge blocks of time.
The thing about law school is that I didn’t find it very hard. I found it tedious and time-consuming. But I actually enjoyed it. The students at Yale Law School were extraordinary in their intellect, and some of them had had incredible experiences and lived a life I never knew. It was an amazing place for me.
Yale is also special for another reason: because it’s small, it’s like family. In my second year of law school I had a back problem and had to be hospitalized. At first they prescribed bed rest, and when it didn’t correct (it was a disc problem), I had surgery. I was literally out of school for four months, which overlapped two semesters in my second year. At the end of the first semester the dean of admissions brought my exams to my house and allowed me to take them in bed. My colleagues in school shared their notes from class as the second semester started, and the dean brought my books to me. In the spring semester I was actually able to take the exams in the dean’s office, where I could lie down, as I wasn’t able to sit for long periods of time. I am convinced that if I was at any other law school I probably would not have been able to finish. I was in this really curious situation where my entire financial support structure was tied up in a series of grants and loans from Yale, and if I withdrew from school, I had no way to support myself. So it was very important that I stay enrolled, and Yale made it possible for me to do that by accommodating my physical limitations at the time.
What did you do after law school?
I was very tempted to go back to San Francisco because I had clerked with an excellent firm, which was Pillsbury Madison at the time, and San Francisco is beautiful. But at the end of the day I decided that San Francisco was not the real world. It was really removed from everything that I was very comfortable with—my family was on the East Coast, and the politics were very different. San Francisco is so incredibly beautiful, and there is this whole orientation to leisure time there, getting away on the weekends and such. But I decided I’d rather be seduced by power than by beauty, so I came back to Washington. I went to work at Arent Fox, where I was doing litigation, and while I was not extraordinarily happy, I was not actively unhappy. Then out of the blue I got a call from Jack Watson at the White House, who said he was looking for a staff person and that somebody had given him my name and he would like to talk with me. Thirty days later I was in the White House and a member of the Carter administration, and I stayed there until that painful day in January when Mr. Reagan was sworn in.
Do you see that phone call merely as fortuitous, or something more?
As I said, that’s the story of my life, being on the right street corner at the right time. But it’s also, in part, because I’ve had a lot of people who have been supporters or mentors and pushed me to do things that I would not have thought of or wouldn’t have thought I could do. In this case it was Vernon Jordan who gave Jack Watson my name. I’ve known Vernon for years. When I worked at the Metropolitan Applied Research Center, he was at the Voter Education Project in Atlanta. We were friends, and of course he knows anybody and everybody, and when Jack called him, Vernon passed along my name with a couple of others.
In some ways it was a willingness on my part to take a little bit of a risk because it was a political appointment, and when Carter lost I was going to be out on the street with two kids who I had to figure out how to support. But I didn’t think of that at the time. I viewed it as “Oh, this could be very interesting.”
How long were you in the Carter administration?
From 1978 to 1981, at the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
What did you do there?
The work I did primarily focused on three areas: I was a liaison between the White House and state and local officials, but primarily mayors and governors; secondly, I was a liaison with the District of Columbia, because the District has a special relationship with the federal government; and the last piece was that Jack Watson also served as secretary to the cabinet, so I dealt with the coordination of certain policies that had to be implemented through different cabinet agencies such as minority contracting policies. For example, at the time the federal government had a policy that federal agencies and offices should be located in labor surplus areas, meaning locating federal agencies in the cities, so we monitored and implemented policies such as this. Another example is that this was at the time of the Mariel boatlift, so there was a requirement for some coordination between, for instance, human services, to see what services might be provided for these people, and immigration, to find out how to deal with the issues of their legal status.
When it came to the relationship with the mayors and governors, if there was a policy that we really wanted to vet with local elected officials, we would get their input and develop their support. We would chat with people, get their feedback, understand the implications, and try to get their support for what the president wanted to do.
How would you describe your time at the White House?
It was heady stuff for a young kid from New Jersey. There may be people who grow up and say, “I’m going to work at the White House one day.” But I was not one of them. It never would have occurred to me, and having that opportunity was really extraordinary. There were some really talented people, very committed people, and clearly some ambitious people at the White House, but they were very interested in serving their government and their country. While you can debate the merits of particular policies in terms of which way a particular president was leaning, I don’t think you can really debate the issue of whether people who line up to work for that president are committed public servants who will put their efforts and energies into making sure the policies get developed and implemented.
It was a lot of fun. I got the opportunity to see how the government operates on a level most people never get to see. I also got to meet a lot of interesting people and do interesting things, like fly on Air Force Two with Mondale or go with the president’s mother on a trip to the Caribbean. There was, however, a sense of isolation, which is probably true in all administrations. You tend to stay within your cocoon and you do not realize, or at least I didn’t until I went out and did some work on the campaign in the fall of 1980, how different the country’s views of the president’s goals and policies are from those of us who are on the inside. In some ways we were sheltered from interacting with people, and that to me was eye-opening. It was disillusioning, disappointing, and discouraging. It was a realization that even though we were very methodically and carefully crafting our message and framing our policies, it was not being heard and received by the public in the manner we intended, and that was very upsetting.
Do you have any examples?
I went to work on the campaign in New Jersey, and I just remember a series of meetings, primarily with elderly groups and African Americans, and people just didn’t understand what the administration’s policies were with respect to certain issues. I can’t give you a specific, but it was such a startling thing to me. There is this inside-the-Beltway thing where we listen to each other and do not hear the hinterland. But it was never quite as real to me as when I started going out and talking with the public and realized that this was a loosing battle—they had not heard us or understood us. It was very frustrating.
How hard was it for you when Carter lost the election to Reagan?
It was horrible, from both a political level and a personal level. Carter was not viewed as an insider, and he had not developed the relationships with businesses the way some presidents do, and which allows them to take care of their people. Carter didn’t have the capacity to make sure some of his key people were placed. Secondly, there were the policy directions. On January 20, 1981, to see the hostages being released as Reagan was taking office was just the most painful, cruel, and bitter thing I could have imagined for the president, because he had tried so hard and it was clearly a political decision on the part of the Iranian government. I remember standing in my family room, looking at it on television and crying. I was bawling like a baby. That was really terrible, and the whole notion that the country was going in a very different direction was troubling as well. On a personal level, because there was a shift from Democrat to Republican, a lot of sources of employment weren’t there. I was wondering what I was going to do. Initially I did a little bit of consulting work. I talked to a number of law firms, but had not landed anything.
How did you come to work for the District government?
When I was at the White House, I had been approached by people from the District government about running their Office of Intergovernmental Relations and had turned them down at the time. Later they invited me to come and work for them and help with their summer youth employment program. At first I said, “No, no, no, I don’t want to work for the District government,” but in the end I decided to do it, and I was there for four years. It was a really good experience for me.
At the White House I was not a manager, but in the District government, after a couple of brief stints (three or four months doing different things), I went to work in the mayor’s office and was named the director of intergovernmental relations. I had a staff and had “cabinet” status as a manager. It’s a real credit to Marion Barry that he was willing to put me in that position when I didn’t have management experience. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to grow and learn and to fully understand, in a way that I did not before, the District government and the really crazy, unfortunate, and paternalistic relationship between it and the federal government. I also had an opportunity to work with many colleagues in the District government who were very smart and committed, and from whom I learned a lot, including the mayor. He is probably the most skilled politician I’ve ever seen, and he probably knows more about the government than anybody I’ve ever known. Despite many personal problems, for which he will clearly be known, he was an extraordinary mentor, and made it possible for me to develop the practice that I have developed here at Hunton.
Was the transition from federal government to District government
difficult? What did your work for the District entail?
I think local government is the hardest job in the country because it is one thing to be at the federal level where you can talk grand thoughts, talk about things in policy terms, and encourage legislation that channels your decision making into certain goals; it is another thing to pick up the garbage, to plow the snow, to sweep the street, to make sure your signal lights are working. Local government is really hard. That is where the rubber meets the road, and it is much harder than federal government.
I was involved in similar governmental functions as I was at the White House, serving as the liaison between the executive and the Council of the District of Columbia, between the executive and the Congress, and to a certain extent working with various agencies in the District government to coordinate their activities with the mayor’s legislative agenda. It was an opportunity to help shape legislation, to advocate on behalf of the executive on both the council level and on the Hill, and to hone my poker skills to an extent. One of the great lessons I learned working for Marion Barry was when he said to me one day, “Pauline, you could never be a poker player because you do not know how to control your body language,” and he was absolutely right. I really had to try very hard to learn to control my body language, and that’s not something that comes easily to me. One thing he would say to me, and that applies to what I do now, was “I don’t want my lawyers to tell me what I cannot do. I want them to tell me how I can legally do what I want to do.” I can’t tell you how important a lesson that was.
What were some of the issues that you handled while you were with
the District government?
One of the hot issues that we had to work on had to do with a decision the Supreme Court handed down known as INS v. Chadha. It was a decision that had to do with the use of the legislative veto. A footnote in that opinion mentioned that there were a number of other pieces of legislation, in addition to this piece of legislation in dispute, that had legislative veto provisions that were suspect, and one of those pieces of legislation was the District Home Rule Act. At the time that the decision came down, the District was preparing to enter into the bond market, and of course it raised a cloud about whether the Home Rule Act was unconstitutional and whether it had implications for the District’s ability to issue debt. One of the matters I can remember spending a lot of time on was getting a legislative fix in Congress to amend the District’s Home Rule Act to address the issue raised by the Chadha decision.
It was in the course of doing some of that work that I met one of the partners at Hunton & Williams. He was working on a financing at the Housing Finance Agency, which also was getting ready to go into the bond market, and it was working with him initially that led to my introduction to this firm and to the invitation to come and chat with them. It was funny, because it happened at a time when I was thinking of leaving government. My son was a senior in high school, and I thought, “I cannot afford to send a kid to college on a government salary. I’m going to have to find another job.” So I talked to several firms, and at the time Hunton seemed to be the most interesting to me.
Did you experience any difficulty making the transition from government
back to life at a law firm?
It was not a hard transition in that I had been at a firm before and I sort of knew how they worked. On the other hand, at that firm I had been at a much more junior level, and here it was seven or eight years later and I was at a much more senior position, and it was strange not to have a boss in a sense. If I decided to take a day off for some reason, I didn’t have to check with somebody. That was a strange transition for me, but not a hard one at all.
The most wonderful thing about what I do now is that I represent the government, or governmental agencies. I work for not-for-profits. I do financings that have some public purpose. So at a very fundamental level, what I’m doing is still in the public interest, except I get private wages. For all the young people out there who are looking for meaningful work, for purposeful work, this is the perfect practice from my perspective because it satisfies my fundamental need to feel that what I’m doing is in the public interest. I am still really engaged in some very important policy discussions, and I can look around and see how I have changed the landscape of this city, whether it’s the convention center, or the MCI/Verizon Center, or the new terminals at National and Dulles airports, or the cancer center at the Washington Hospital Center, or a dormitory at American University. It’s great.
What are you most proud of accomplishing at Hunton & Williams?
Hunton & Williams is an interesting place. It started as a southern firm, based in Richmond. Indeed, it was on the wrong side of Brown v. Board of Education, representing the school board, which did not want integrated schools. So it’s rather ironic that this would be the firm that I would come to.
I know that Hunton & Williams is a more diverse firm than when I first came here. At that time I believe there were two African Americans, maybe three, but there certainly were not many. I was the first African American woman partner, and since I’ve been here there have been two others. One was a woman who came to work for me before she became partner and stayed for 12 to 13 years before she recently left to open the Washington office of another firm. I think that I have had a significant impact on this firm’s diversity efforts.
Secondly, I have developed our public finance department in this office, and I’m proud to say that I represent the District of Columbia government, the Housing Finance Agency, the Washington Convention Center Authority, the National Capital Revitalization Corporation, the Anacostia Waterfront Association. We have also represented the Water and Sewer Authority. At a very fundamental level this is my hometown now, and I care about the fact that I am helping this government and instrumentalities develop this city in a positive way economically. That’s important to me, and this firm has given me the opportunity to do that through the public finance department. It’s been a really positive experience.
I think professionally one of the best things that I have done was to chair the Judicial Nomination Commission at the request of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. During the Clinton presidency Congresswoman Norton was given the equivalent of senatorial courtesy in respect to the nomination of judges, and she appointed a commission of 17 people, the majority of whom were lawyers. The commission was made up of people from all political perspectives, all races. We had people from labor, we had gay and lesbian, black, white, Asian and Latino, big firm, small firm—just a variety of people.
I think that we sent to Congresswoman Norton, and the president nominated and the Senate confirmed, some of the very best judges in the country. I think that we have an incredible bench. The most amazing thing about the process was that despite the diversity of interests and views of the people on the commission, virtually every candidate we sent to Congresswoman Norton had our unanimous endorsement, and it was based on the quality of these individuals and the merit of their experience. We never asked their politics. We never asked any litmus test issue. We just looked at their professional record, we looked at their record for integrity, we looked at their potential for judicial temperament, and we did it in a way that was never negative. It was one of those things that went under the radar screen. Because of the quality of the judges, nobody could ever challenge how the nominations were done or who was nominated, and to me this is going to be one of my finest moments. I’m really proud of what the commission was able to accomplish, and the credit really goes to Congresswoman Norton. She negotiated with the president to get that right, and she used it in a way that is to her credit and that this city will be forever indebted to.
How did you come to run for D.C. Bar president?
I got a call from Executive Director Katherine Mazzaferri while I was still working in the government, asking me if I would consider running for Bar secretary. I said that I hadn’t given it much thought, but one thing led to another and eventually I agreed to run. Once you’ve been a secretary you have an opportunity to run for the board, so I did that and it seemed like a natural progression, but it never occurred to me to run for Bar president. A couple of people, including Jim Robertson and Paul Friedman, talked me into running. They told me I really should do it because it would be a great opportunity and I would enjoy it. At first I told them that I hated public speaking and that I just didn’t think it was for me, but I was finally talked into it.
Did you enjoy your time as president?
Being Bar president got me involved in the National Conference of Bar Presidents, and it also gave me a seat on the American Bar Association House of Delegates, which put me in touch with a lot of bar leaders from around the country. That was a good experience, as was learning about how other bars handle similar issues, different projects that other bars are able to do, services they provide for their membership, and governance at other bar associations. It was very interesting. Ultimately one of my great strengths—and weaknesses—is that I find so many things interesting, so I am always challenged to manage my time and not get diverted in five different directions.
Do you view your term as successful?
I would say that there was one area where I was disappointed, but generally I think we did some good work. One of the things I was concerned about while I was president, and this comes from my experience in local government, is that we have a huge bar, and I perceived that there were a lot of lawyers who are in this town but not of this town. They practice law here and they go out here at night, but they are not engaged in the community. To get Bar members more engaged in the community, I tried to develop mentoring opportunities and programs, but I wasn’t very successful with that.
But we did develop a project that was named as best bar project of the year by the National Conference of Bar Presidents. The project had to do with reproductive cancers and focused on prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. The District has the highest incidence of those two cancers than any place in the country, particularly prostate cancer among black men. I wanted to have a project that would engage men and women and could provide services that people who had those cancers could use. We did things like working with health care systems to develop various kinds of orders and help those who needed help with a medical directive, or a will, or in developing a guardianship with respect to children. It turned out to be a terrific program, and we were pretty proud of that. Overall it was a good year.
One thing I did not expect—and this probably relates to the fact that I was the first African American woman Bar president—is that there were a lot of demands on my time for speaking engagements, which I didn’t enjoy, but by the end of the year I could deliver a pretty good speech.
One issue that was prominent when you were president and that remains
a concern today is the advancement of women in the legal profession.
What has been your own experience?
We can look at numbers and statistics that show that women make up around 50 percent of the graduating classes at law schools these days, and then we can look at statistics about women partners at major law firms that tell us something different. I think women make up less than 10 percent of partners. We also can look at general counsel for Fortune 500 companies, where the number of women is statistically small, too.
It is clear that a larger number of women are going to law school and are entering the profession, but there seems to be a limit to opportunities open to women. I don’t think there is any doubt that the issue of balancing work and family is very fundamental to whether or not women are able to progress, and at the end of the day it is a very difficult road for many women. I think that the expectations, whether we like them or not, remain different for women than for men, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
For me, in some ways because I had children before I went to school, the whole issue of how you manage children and a career became less of a factor. I had worked. I had already done the compromises of having a nanny. When I finished law school I had a live-in housekeeper because I was a single mom and I needed to have the flexibility of knowing that somebody was going to be with the children who didn’t have an expectation that I would be home at a specific time. There are compromises—you give up some privacy, you increase the cost of child care—but you maximize your flexibility. There are tradeoffs.
Are you as interested in your work at Hunton & Williams now
as when you started?
I absolutely love what I do. I hear about so many lawyers who don’t enjoy what they do, but I love what I do and I love my clients. For me, knowing that what you are doing is in the public interest is what makes it so great, and most of the time I get to see a tangible product at the end, which is nice. When I was younger I used to sew a lot. While there are people who would rather sit down and read a book, I liked to sit down and sew a skirt or a dress, because at the end of three hours I had this tangible product that I could look at and see what I had to show for the time I put into it. Well, that’s the great thing about my practice area: I can see what I helped to accomplish, and that’s a nice feeling.
What would you like to do next?
I don’t know. I’ve been giving that a lot of thought lately, because at Hunton & Williams we have a policy of leaving the partnership at 65, and I’m 63. What am I going to do next? I don’t know, but it will be fun.
Periodically Washington Lawyer features a conversation with a senior member of the District of Columbia Bar reflecting on his or her career as a lawyer. The “Legends in the Law” are selected by the District of Columbia Bar’s Publications Committee on the basis of their prominence in their profession and their individual impact on the law and the legal profession in the District of Columbia. For past interviews, visit www.dcbar.org/legends.