Politics in America: Legal Eagle
Attorney Megan Sowards ’98 is on leave from her job as an associate at the Washington, D.C., law firm Patton Boggs to serve as the deputy general counsel to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Amid a grueling campaign schedule, she was gracious to answer a few questions we had about her job and how she got there.
Middlebury Magazine You are a working as the deputy general counsel to a presidential campaign at a time when lawyers and politicians (and journalists!) aren’t held in the highest public esteem. What attracts you to this particular job? And what would you say to those who have less than a positive image of politicians and lawyers?
Meghan Sowards It’s unfortunate that this perception exists, because my career in public service provides me with a front row seat to the sacrifices that men and women on both sides of the aisle make in order to stand for election and to serve in public office. I see the long hours, the missed family events, the attention to detail, the passion for fact-finding, the day-to-day hard work that comes with being an exemplary public servant–things the general public doesn’t get to see. I’m fortunate to work for men and women who became involved because they believe that their efforts will strengthen our country and improve the lives of all the people they serve. I feel strongly that this presidential election will be the most consequential of my lifetime. It’s tremendously satisfying to work for someone who I believe has the skills and know how to lead country in the right direction.
MM You’ve written speeches for the State Department and served as a speechwriter and press secretary, respectively, for a pair of United States senators (Susan Collins from Maine and Lincoln Chafee from Rhode Island). How has this experience informed what you are doing now?
MS Obviously those jobs helped me hone my writing skills, which I use every day as a lawyer. Having worked on both Senate and State Department staffs, I know what those positions entail. So, that background helps me provide more practical legal advice to my co-workers on the campaign. I’ve stood in their shoes. I have a greater appreciation for the realities and demands of their jobs. Campaign staffers may not always love visiting the lawyer’s office, but I hope my background makes me a more approachable counselor.
MM Is there anything about this job that has surprised you?
MS I’m continually amazed by just how much work goes into running for president and how such a small team of people is able to get it done. Even basic things—like making sure that the candidate’s name appears on the primary ballot in every state—require a great deal of preparation and effort. During the primary, I spent a lot of time researching each state’s unique ballot access requirements and making sure that our campaign had met those requirements in all 50 states and D.C. These can range from filling out a basic form to submitting a petition signed by thousands of registered voters in a strictly prescribed format. Our office oversaw the process from start to finish—including taking volunteers into the field to gather signatures. Even on a presidential campaign, everyone rolls up their sleeves to get the job done, no matter how big or small. You have to earn it.
MM What does a successful day look like to you?
MS A successful day is a day when no one outside the campaign knows that I exist. When the lawyers have done their job, we’ve anticipated the pitfalls and steered the campaign in a direction that avoids them.
MM You’re on leave from a position at one of the most prestigious D.C. law firms—Patton Boggs—to work as legal counsel on a presidential campaign. Think back to 1997-98 and your senior year at Middlebury. In your wildest dreams, did you envision doing what you’re doing today?
MS Not at all. I don’t come from a political family or even from a family of lawyers, so it wasn’t until I started working on the school newspaper at Middlebury that I gained any exposure to politics. Then a Middlebury alum offered me a summer internship on Capitol Hill, and I realized that politics is in my blood. Even then, though, I never imagined that I would have the privilege of working on a presidential campaign. It’s a thrill.