Our Membership: Practicing as a Government Attorney

By Jeffery Leon

October 14, 2016

In the October Washington Lawyer, we asked government attorneys what they found to be the most rewarding part of their job. Rachel Rosenthal of the U.S. Department of Energy offered her thoughts. 

Rachel Rosenthal, U.S. Department of Energy. Photo by Judy Licht Photography. "I was attracted to the idea of working on behalf of a mission. I developed expertise in environmental and energy law at a big law firm here in D.C., and I wanted to use that experience on environmental and energy projects that would accomplish key goals for the country. And I have always been really outdoorsy, so it's been meaningful to me to contribute to making a difference in this field. 

A meaningful, enjoyable part of working on projects on behalf of a mission has been the opportunity to engage with stakeholders—attorneys, clients, staff, and the public. I looked forward to this aspect before I started, and it's been a worthwhile challenge to figure out, along with the agency project staff, how to balance concerns—whether environmental, economic, or other community concerns—and achieve the mission, whether by changing a project or pursuing a different project. It's a tangible reminder of why I am working in government and how my participation makes a difference. 

From a working perspective, practicing law often means focusing on teeny—but important—details. Being part of a mission helps me remember the big picture and how the details can make a difference when it comes to success, or not, for the project overall.

I also wanted more responsibility. Out in private practice, depending on where you are, it can take years to gain enough seniority, for example, to negotiate directly with other attorneys and their clients on a deal. Six months in, I was negotiating, face to face, with private companies and Tribal Nations, and I have gotten even more responsibility for cases over time. So my contributions to the project and to the mission feel tangible because I am so involved in all aspects of the cases."

For more responses from Our Membership, check out the digital edition of the Washington Lawyer!