Lawyers are great at asking questions, but how are they at answering them? Bloomberg Law is talking with lawyers and other legal industry players at the top of their fields to find out what makes them tick, what challenges they face, and how they do what they do.
Margaret Daum joined Squire Patton Boggs in the nation’s capital in early 2019, where she now advises clients facing congressional investigations and related government inquiries. Since joining the firm her clients have included Kurt Volker, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, during President Trump’s impeachment hearing regarding allegations the president withheld aid to Ukraine unless the country investigated Joe Biden.
Daum previously spent more than a decade on Capitol Hill, where she led sensitive and high-profile congressional investigations for U.S. House and Senate committees.
She’s also been staff director at the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and counsel on the House Oversight Committee.
Bloomberg Law spoke to Daum about the difference between working for the federal government and a Big Law firm, the challenges of remotely preparing clients to respond to Congressional inquiries, and the importance of finding a path—even if it means occasionally losing a shoe.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Bloomberg Law: What sets your firm apart from other Big Law firms?
Margaret Daum: What drew me to Squire Patton Boggs was the firm’s unique way of looking to address our clients’ concerns, combining people with deep industry expertise, legal skills, and policy chops, in offices around the world. We talk to each other and we learn from each other, and that makes us better at helping our clients navigate their intersecting legal and governmental challenges. Talent is part of the equation, but I have been impressed with how the firm has created an environment where it is more than the sum of its parts. When you have offices in more than 20 countries, like we do, it provides a strategic advantage.
BL: What is the biggest challenge currently facing your practice area?
MD: Like everyone else, the pandemic has caused major changes in my practice. It was always a rule that for meetings with Congressional staff or Congressional hearings, everyone went to the Hill. Now that we’re remote, I may not be in the same physical location as my client, and that creates challenges both for preparing them and for providing counsel during the meeting or hearing. I’m grateful for all the video technology and chat functions that make it easier to communicate remotely. It’s also been unexpectedly helpful to see my clients in their home settings; it helps me understand them better, and that helps us work together to build and shape their response to the Hill.
BL: What is your favorite war story from your career/practice?
MD: Most of my career seems to have been spent in basements and/or windowless conference rooms going through documents, interviewing witnesses, and writing or editing letters or reports. It’s not quite a literal war story, but when I was on the Hill, I traveled to war zones as part of our oversight and investigations into government contracting related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I’m trying to scare people thinking about going into congressional investigations, I also like to tell them about the many days I spent with a few of my colleagues locked in a cage in a warehouse in Springfield, Virginia, going through boxes of State Department documents.
A more recent story comes from the Trump impeachment inquiry, where I represented two clients. When I was leaving the deposition with one of them, we were being followed by a big group of reporters with camera crews and photographers. I was a little distracted by all the lights and tired from a long day, and accidentally stepped out of my shoe when I got into the car, and then had to find it and put it back on … all while being filmed with my client and getting questioned about the day. I was sure that there was going to be a horrible picture of me without a shoe on some news site and it would be the end of my professional career.
BL: What is the biggest difference you’ve noticed working for a Big Law firm compared to working for the federal government?
MD: Leaving aside the obvious differences, like having different clients and needing to bill time? I have been truly grateful to be able to lean on the wisdom and counsel of my longer-serving partners. The Hill is full of young people, and many leave after only a year or two. As a staff director on a Senate Committee, I was often one of the older and more experienced people in any staff-level conversation. And it wasn’t always easy to get impartial advice or even commiserate — the world of congressional investigations is pretty small, and there just aren’t that many people out there who know what it’s like. Fortunately for me, there are a lot of people at my firm who know exactly what it’s like to transition from the federal government to working for a firm, and they have been tremendously generous and supportive to me throughout this process.
BL: Your work has essentially shifted from working more like a prosecutor to working more like a defense lawyer. How hard was that shift for you?
MD: It’s been easier than I thought it would be! One of the things I learned from my great bosses and mentors on the Hill was to start with the facts and then build an effective narrative. I do the same thing with my clients, while also making sure that they understand the various ways that Congressional investigations may impact their business, reputation, and other legal liabilities.
BL: What advice would you give an associate just starting out his/her Big Law career?
MD: Work with the people that you think are good humans. They tend to have the most interesting careers in the law and will help you figure out how to be a good human too. And, speaking as someone who left Big Law as a second year associate and came back as a partner, there are a lot of different ways to have a Big Law career. Don’t close any doors, and find the path that works for you.