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Home  > Article

Rising Stars: High Level Lawyer in Federal Maritime Commission

By Laura Gordon

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
Major: Government
Years Out of College: 10+
Title: Deputy General Counsel
Company: Federal Maritime Commission
 
First Steps

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 Now

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 their careers."

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."

Challenges Faced

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 that yourself."

My Experience

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 clients.

Did I Ever Think I'd End Up Here?

"When I step back and think about it (which I don't do very often), I'm often surprised at the things that I've been fortunate enough to do professionally. I've been lucky."

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 works."

Advice for Others

"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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