Incurable Potomac Fever
Kelly A. Cole JD’96 doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be a lawyer. “I never really considered doing anything else,” said Cole, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Broadcasters. “I had relatives and family friends who were attorneys, and I was always fascinated with their jobs.”
Raised in a suburb of Los Angeles, Calif., Cole studied political, legal and economic analysis at Mills College in Oakland. She spent her junior year abroad, studying law at the London School of Economics. After earning her bachelor’s degree, Cole took a year off from school to work “as a glorified paralegal” at Stoel Rives LLP in Portland, Ore. “I did most of the ‘meat and potatoes’ work of law — digging through reams of papers and interviewing witnesses,” she said. “It was mundane, but I found it endlessly fascinating.”
She enrolled in Willamette University College of Law in 1993. “At the time, getting a law degree was really just a means to an end,” said Cole, who wanted to become a litigator. “When I got to law school, I realized the importance of learning how to think critically and logically. Every day since law school and in every job I’ve had, I’ve appreciated the value of that education.”
As a third-year student, Cole was offered a highly coveted clerkship with the Marion County district attorney’s office. “I got to be a real litigator, representing clients in front of a judge and jury,” she said. “They were mostly misdemeanors, like drunk-driving, theft and domestic abuse cases, but the experience really whetted my appetite for being in the courtroom.”
Cole also served as a summer associate in the Portland office of Preston Gates (now K&L Gates), a leading national firm. Following her graduation from Willamette, Cole accepted an associate position in the firm’s commercial litigation group. She worked in the Portland office for a year before transferring to Washington, D.C.
“The firm’s D.C. office had a public policy arm, so I worked on both litigation and public policy,” said Cole, whose time was split between conducting antitrust litigation and lobbying Congress on transportation and tax issues. “I got a taste of what it is like to go to Capitol Hill and lobby on issues.” Cole was immediately hooked.
“Lobbying involves the fun part of litigation — making an argument and trying to convince folks that your position is the right one,” she explained. “In lobbying, you’re not constrained by the rules of evidence or procedure. All those rules go out the window when you’re making a case to members of Congress.”
In 2000, Cole moved to the government side of the fence when she became telecommunications counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce. In addition to advising committee members on a range of telecommunications issues, she drafted and negotiated legislation. “We got to thread the needle on where public policy should be on some major issues,” she said. “There are so many different ways to write a law to get something done. The trick is to find a way to make the least number of people unhappy.” After six years with the committee, Cole returned to government relations practice. She now serves as vice president of government relations for the National Association of Broadcasters, a trade association that advocates on behalf of radio and television stations and broadcast networks. “I take the experience I gained on Capitol Hill and couple that with a specific agenda,” said Cole, who has worked on the National Do Not Call Registry and broadcast indecency legislation. “I do a lot of knocking on doors, advocating how public policy should be written.
“If you love politics, then it is very easy to eat, breathe and sleep politics in Washington,” she explained. “They call it ‘Potomac Fever’ because the politics of Washington gets inside you. It becomes a passion to most people. It has for me. It’s 10 years later, and I’m still here.”
Kelly A. Cole JD’96
“When I got to law school, I realized the importance of learning how to think critically and logically. In every job I’ve had, I’ve appreciated the value of that education.”