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Rising Stars: High Level Lawyer in Federal Maritime Commission
Chris's experience stresses the importance of continuing education. He was able to take advantage of several unique opportunities allowed him by his job, most notably arguing a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Name: Chris Hughey
School: University of North Carolina at Wilmington; Cornell Law
Years Out of College: 10+
Title: Deputy General Counsel
Company: Federal Maritime Commission
After graduating college, Chris went straight to law school at Cornell. A few years later, with both a degree in law as well as a specialized degree in International and Comparative Law under his belt, he then started work as a staff attorney at the Federal Maritime Commission. This regulatory agency oversees international shipping to and from the United States. Chris has actually been working for the Commission ever since his first job, though he has since been promoted to the position of Deputy General Counsel.
Of his government job, Chris reflects, "Working for the
government helped me to realize that one can serve the public
in a variety of ways. Economic regulation is not what people
might ordinarily think of when they consider public service,
but it fills an important role in the U.S. economy:
protecting markets from inefficiencies that could drive up
prices for consumers."
From Then to
Though Chris's undergraduate major, history, is not directly
relevant to his current job, he still credits his background
as having taught him important skills, such as writing skills
and learning "how to consolidate a broad array of facts into
a coherent and persuasive narrative." Chris's big break came
when he argued a case before the United States Supreme Court
at the unusually young age of 30. "One of the great things
about working for the federal government is that young
professionals get a lot of responsibility fairly early in
Another defining moment came when he was given the position of the Commission's Deputy General Counsel. At this point in his career, Chris realized that he could greatly benefit from a graduate school program that would allow him to study management and leadership. Thus, he enrolled in the mid-career Master in Public Administration program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
This experience has taught Chris a lot. "The important lesson
from that experience is that education should never stop. One
must continue to learn throughout one's career, whether
through classroom education, retreats, or simply by outside
reading. More than just keeping up, you have to grow. It
sounds like a cliche, but it is really true."
In such a competitive environment, Chris was challenged by
"rivalries and maneuverings to get the best assignments," yet
also faced unexpected difficulties with his maturing career.
When he realized that his employer wasn't being as nurturing
of his development as he would have liked, Chris realized
that he had to "learn to manage my own career and not expect
my employer to take full responsibility for developing me and
putting me on the right path. It's really important to
realize that even a really great job doesn't on its own
prepare you for the next (even better!) job--you have to do
Chris's typical day, aside from myriad internal meetings,
includes analyzing and reviewing drafts of memoranda,
administrative rules, or adjudicatory decisions written by
staff attorneys. His job is to make sure that the drafts are
ready to be presented to the General Counsel and the
Commissioners, as well as outside parties. He will also meet
with external lawyers, often to discuss shipping interests,
trade developments, and the specific interests of their
Did I Ever Think I'd End
While Chris asserts that a law degree is necessary for his
current job, he realizes that his history background has
helped him to do well in law school. His advice for aspiring
graduate students in law or business is to take at least one
or two classes in microeconomics. "You'd be surprised how
much that discipline can teach you about how the world
"The best advice is to realize that you have to manage your own development. You have a fair amount of control over your own destiny, so you should take advantage of that and be prepared for opportunities that arise. Luck is a big factor, but taking advantage of lucky breaks--that's a skill you can learn and develop throughout your career."
"For students interested in a career in law, my advice is to take a year or two after college to experience the world. I did not do this but wish I had, as it would have made the law school experience richer and more meaningful rather than purely abstract and academic. Anyone who wants to do well in law school should take undergraduate courses in microeconomics, accounting, psychology, and U.S. history. Knowledge in those fields, even at the introductory level, will confer important advantages in law school."
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