How I Got My Job as In-House Government Counsel: John Pearce, Counsel to Governor Gary Herbert and Jason Rose (SJQ ’99), Legal Counsel to the Salt Lake County Council

Jason Rose (SJQ ’99), Legal Counsel to the Salt Lake County Council  

 

Where are you from and where and why did you go to law school? I grew up in Taylorsville and went to the U for law school.  I have always been attracted to public service and saw myself working for state or local government.  I saw law school as a good way to put myself in a position to be involved in public service while still making a decent living.

What kinds of activities did you do in law school?  I had a lot of family commitments during law school, so I wasn’t as involved as I would have liked to have been.  But I did do the judicial clinic with Judge Hilder.  I also did a summer clerkship with a mid-sized law firm in St. George.  I worked as a law clerk for the SL County DA/Civil Division during my third year.

What did you do after law school? I got a job as a law clerk for the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office/Civil Division during my third year.  I was fortunate enough to get an offer a couple of months after I became a member of the bar.  Before I received the offer, I continued to work as a law clerk and applied for other jobs.  I later worked as a Salt Lake District Attorney in the Civil Division, and spent a short period of time as an Orem City Attorney in Utah County.

What do you do now?  I am the Legal Counsel to the Salt Lake County Council.  I represent the legislative branch of Salt Lake County government.  The County Council members are part time and they meet for Council meetings every Tuesday.  A big part of my job is preparing policies and ordinances for the Council members and making sure the council meeting agendas are legally compliant.  I also do annual trainings for open meetings and records issues.

How did you first make contact with your employer? I worked in the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office, so I came in contact with the Council through the course of my prior employment.  I first made contact with Salt Lake County through Professor Mitchell, who introduced me to the head of the Civil Division during my third year in law school.

How did you get this job/application/interview process?    What kinds of things gave you an edge?  Once Professor Mitchell helped me get my foot in the door, I felt like I had something to prove.  I worked my #$@ when I was a law clerk and tried to make a good impression for every attorney who gave me projects.  This helped me to establish a good reputation and eventually led to my offer.  I knew that we lived in a relatively small legal market and if I didn’t get a job with the District Attorney, then I would at least get a positive recommendation that would help me stay in government.  I have maintained my attitude as a government attorney over the first ten years of my career and I believe that approach helped me get my current job with the Council.  I also went back to school to get my MPA.  I think that showed my commitment to public service.

Best parts of the job?  The best part of my new job is I get a front row seat to the policy making process in Salt Lake County.  I enjoy seeing how the process works and being involved in that process.  The biggest challenge with being the Council’s attorney is that my clients are only here once or twice a week, so I don’t get to meet with them often.  It is difficult to represent somebody when you aren’t able to communicate with them.

What tips do you have for students and alums who are job seeking and interested in government and policy?  As with any job, I recommend doing things that show that you are committed to that field.  Get to know people who work in government and policy, take classes related to government and policy, and develop skills that will help those in government and policy do their jobs.  I would highly recommend the clinic for local prosecution or a clerkship in state or local government.  If you can do a clerkship or clinic with people in government and do a good job, then you give yourself an opportunity to get hired when openings do occur.  Even in government, people are much more likely to hire somebody they know can do the job.

 

John Pearce, General Counsel to Governor Gary Herbert

 

Where are you from and why did you go to law school?  I grew up in Magna, Utah and went to the University of California, Berkeley for law school after earning my B.S. at the University of Utah.  I wish I could remember why I went to law school and what I thought I would be doing afterwards.  I am pretty sure that I got hoodwinked by the idea that a J.D. was a “flexible” degree that would keep all options open and allow me to do anything from serving as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to driving around in an RV solving mysteries.  I vaguely remember some shock at the fact that despite my classmates’ seemingly grand and varied ambitions, a large percentage of us headed straight off to big law firms.

What kinds of activities did you do in law school?  I focused on classes that interested me, rather than making any sort of deliberate plan to position myself for a certain career, so I wound up taking some classes that have really influenced my legal thinking and career (Constitutional Law seminars, History of American Law) as well as those that were interesting but have been less helpful in actual practice (International and Comparative law).  I very much enjoyed an externship with the California Court of Appeals after my first summer.  I worked for a journal dealing with International Tax and Business issues, but that was mostly a front for an office to play cards between classes.

What did you do after law school?  My first job was with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Palo Alto, CA.  I worked there for two and a half years until I returned to Utah to work for Jones Waldo.  I was at the JW for about 10 years before joining the Governor’s Office.

What do you do now?  As General Counsel to Governor Herbert, my responsibilities are quite varied.  I advise the Governor on legal issues, as well as issues surrounding the judiciary.  I monitor litigation filed against the state, consult with the Attorney General’s Office and meet with constituents who have concerns about the legal system.  During the legislative session, I review all filed bills for legal and policy concerns.

How did you first make contact with your employer?  The Governor’s then-Chief of Staff (and current University of Utah VP) Jason Perry (SJQ  ’99) knew that I had a mix of practice experience that might be helpful in the Governor’s Office.  I had represented groups striving to place voter initiatives on the ballot and had worked with media clients in open records and open meeting disputes.  In addition, I had represented Utah companies, both large and small, as well as some Utah municipalities.  Mr. Perry asked if I would have any interest in visiting with the Governor about the general counsel position.

How did you get this job?  What was the application interview process like, and what kinds of things gave you an edge?  Grades?  Sparkling personality? Governor Herbert hired me despite my grades and personality.  As described above, I believe it was my work experience that convinced him to offer me the job.

Best parts of the job?  It’s great to have a job where you feel like your work matters and that you are contributing to the greater good.  I enjoy having the opportunity to advise the Governor on legal and policy matters and to be in the room when he interviews judicial candidates.

What tips do you have for students and alums who are job seeking and interested in government and policy?  Be vigilant.  From my (admittedly limited) experience in the public sector, it appears that jobs do not come available on any regular cycle.  Positions can open or be created suddenly and it helps to be in the right place at the right time.  If you are interested in a government or policy position but find yourself doing other types of work, don’t stop learning about the issues that interest you.  Look for opportunities to do work, perhaps even pro bono work, that will give you chances to expand your knowledge in your areas of interest.  You never know when those skills will make you valuable for a position.