The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Government Lawyers
A lawyer in a non-legal state job: in the belly of the bureaucracy
While there are many lawyers in state service, not all of them represent the state in litigation, act as administrative law judges or are "in-house" counsel for state agencies. There are some attorneys, including myself, who are in non-legal positions and use their legal background to varying degrees. I am with the Department of Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which investigates allegations of abuse and neglect of persons with mental disabilities.
My job classification is Public Service Administrator, which is as close to a title as I get. I often describe myself as an upper-mid-level bureaucrat--or maybe a just a mid-level one; if I say much more than that in trying to describe my job, people start mechanically nodding and soon change the subject. My previous jobs have included co-director of a training, technical assistance and representation project, director of forensic services and chief of the bureau of rules, policies and regulatory review. One of my long-term employment goals is to get a job whose title clearly describes its functions.
In this position, I have several functions. Part of my time is devoted to conducting training seminars, primarily for staff of agencies serving mentally ill or developmentally disabled persons, on topics such as investigative skills and administrative rules. These aren't the most stimulating topics, so our public speaking skills are challenged in presenting them. I've learned the value of computer slide shows (PowerPoint presentations) to give a talk some graphic appeal. My other functions, which use my legal background more directly, include developing guidelines and procedures for the office, drafting rule amendments, drafting legislative proposals and being the liaison to the Department's Office of Legal Counsel. In that last function, I receive legal questions from OIG staff and, if appropriate, forward them to the Office of Legal Counsel for an opinion. Some of the issues include confidentiality of OIG reports and client records, representation during interviews, and liability of the state or employees for actions taken as the result of an investigation. The Office of Legal Counsel provides OIG with legal advice and, if necessary, arranges for representation by the Attorney General's Office. In my liaison role, I draft letters requesting representation, arrange for records to be sent to the attorney upon request, and arrange for staff to talk to the attorney.
I am not acting as an attorney, and my job does not require a law degree or bar admission, but my legal background is an important part of the job as well as a part of my identity. Despite the assertions of my children that their father is "not a real lawyer" (despite explanations that not all attorneys go to court), I think of myself as a lawyer--or at least a lawyer/bureaucrat--just not one practicing law.
While serving the state in various ill-defined capacities since 1985, Mr. Menninger has been chair of the ISBA Committee on the Mentally Disabled, Health Care Section Council and Elder Law Section Council. He is currently co-editor of the Elder Law Newsletter and a member of the Continuing Legal Education Committee. He finds footnotes and endnotes hard to resist.
Editor's note: Mr. Menninger has recently become the Bureau Chief for Policy for Department of Human Services.