The doors of the elevator slide open and I’m met with a cacophony of sounds. Activity is bustling on the sixth-floor of the offices of Rothschild and Miller, a premier law firm in Metropolitan DC. Not only does this firm handle corporate litigation and high-profile cases, but we also house the largest contingency of Capitol Hill lobbyists. The number of people, excuse me, associates, that we have to work at this firm are beyond staggering. Every attorney has an assistant, each assistant seems to have an assistant and so on. Don’t even get me started on counting the number of interns, mail room attendants, clerical workers, and researchers. Actually, that’s just on the litigation side of the house and doesn’t include the staff on the lobbying side.
I graduated law school at Columbia and came to work at Rothschild and Miller with visions of grandeur. I was positive I would be the next best thing to hit the legal scene. I graduated high in my class and passed the bar exam for the State of New York on my first try. Taking the bar to practice law in DC was a cake walk. I was ready to take the legal world by storm and put my education to good use. I told my family I would one day hold a seat on the Supreme Court or in the least be on the Federal Bench. Failure wasn’t an option for me. Then I hit DC and things changed.
There was no storm when I hit Rothschild and Miller. My academic achievements meant nothing to them. I was relegated to the bottom rung of an extremely tall ladder and it was not easy to climb to the next rung. I excelled in corporate law over criminal or family law. So, with that in mind, I was put to work within corporate litigation. My degree in Finance came in handy for the type of work I was going to do. Except I was starting out with research and had no shot at getting near a real client. And there was no way I was going to make it to the courtroom.
Eventually, I began to get recognized for my hard work and, in some cases, my unique take on things led the powers that be to give me a shot. I built a strong track record by winning every case I took to court. But more importantly, I had the ability to mediate to keep cases from going to court. This meant I was winning cases without going to court and securing settlements that were guaranteed payouts. My successful mediation percentage and revenue generated were the highest in the firm. Even better than some of the partners. While it was no storm, I did believe I was building momentum.
So, imagine my surprise when I was called to meet with the Managing Partner, Preston Miller. My heart was pounding and I thought this meant a raise or bonus. If I was lucky, a bit of a promotion with a move to a more respectable cubicle. Instead, he told me that my hard work had caught his attention and he wanted to move me from litigation to lobbying. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to tell him ‘no’ and fight my reasons for declining the move. But as my boss and the Managing Partner of the firm, I felt it best to keep quiet.
I had been with the firm for eighteen months and I didn’t even realize that Preston Miller knew who I was. Now he’s telling me that I have a very specific skillset that would be better suited for lobbying. My talent was being wasted in litigation. What did he mean by that? Was I supposed to be offended or was he paying me a compliment? It turns out, it was a little of both. I’ve now been with the firm for three years and I’m routinely mentioned as one of the most influential lobbyists on Capitol Hill. As I step out of the elevator and head down the marble hallway towards my office, my heels click on the floor and play like a pied piper song for a legion of clerks and interns. Suddenly I have several of them falling in line behind me. They are all helping with the research on my latest piece of legislation, a telecommunications bill that will go to the House floor for a vote within the next week. Almost daily changes or addendums are being processed and another tree is killed to generate the mound of paperwork being thrown my way. I half expect Philip Grammar, a lobbyist for green initiatives, to yell at me for the number of trees sacrificed for this damn bill.
As I near my office, my Executive Assistant, Joanie, comes from behind her desk to take my briefcase and purse while handing me my laptop. I head for the door of my personal conference room where several clerks are already seated around the table. The ones who had been following me quickly fall into the remaining chairs.
As I prepare to begin the meeting, Joanie approaches me with a cup of coffee. She is good to me. I can’t get through the early meetings without high doses of caffeine. I’d mainline the coffee if I could. As I take the cup from her, she leans forward and whispers, “Mr. Miller wants to see you in his office when this meeting concludes.”
I turn from the people assembled at the table and look directly at Joanie. My eyebrows have shot up and I can’t hide the look of surprise that is plastered on my face. My voice even cracks when I say, “What? Why does he want to see me?” Joanie shrugged and that was the extent of my answer. “What’s going on, Joanie?” Now I am starting to worry. Joanie backed out of the office and closes the door with a soft click. My stomach has suddenly plummeted and I have to hold it together for this meeting. I turn back to the table and realize they are all staring at me. They evidently heard where I need to go after this meeting.
I have every right to worry. I don’t interact with Preston Miller. Ok, there was that one time for my “promotion,” but that’s it. He is never seen on the sixth floor. I’ve never been to a meeting where he has been in attendance. In fact, I don’t think I’ve even seen him at the company holiday party. I’m aware that he knows I exist on paper. But with the number of employees his firm has on their payroll, I can’t expect that he would remember me.
My notoriety for being influential doesn’t really mean much to me. I have had success with my lobbying career. The bills that I work on usually pass and I get what my client is wanting. But I work on small legislative bills that have no vital impact. I’m not funding cancer research or feeding the homeless. I’m working on subsidies for farmers and small groups. It is important work, I’m not minimizing it. But I’m not anything special.
This telecommunications bill is my first big piece of legislation. This could be a major boost to my career but it won’t catapult me to superstardom. I would liken the ratings for influential lobbyists to those of the Top 25 rankings within college sports. You are judged not solely by your wins and losses but by your strength of schedule as well; how hard were your opponents and how well are they ranked? If they assessed numbers to the each of us on the list, I might make the Top 25 but there is no way I’m cracking the Top 10.
By this point my mind is spinning out of control and I need to get together. I have a meeting to conduct and business to attend to. Unfortunately, my mind keeps going back to why would he want to see me? What have I done wrong? Did I make someone mad and they called Mr. Miller to handle it? I’ve had a good working relationship with everyone on the Hill. Well, except for one Senator but he has trouble getting along with most people. I haven’t gotten into any knock-down drag-out fights with anyone. Well, again, except for that one Senator. We generally just scowl at one another and trade sarcastic jabs. He’s a bit of a self-righteous prick but he certainly is intelligent and can carry a room. My mind keeps going back to when I had my last encounter with him. I know I left the room and said he was a pompous fuck, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t within earshot when I said it.
Someone at the table coughs, snapping me back to reality. “Sorry, good morning everyone. Who wants to start us off?” The meeting kicks off and I take a seat, listening intently to each person provide an update while I take notes and try to forget about my impending meeting with Preston Miller. Unfortunately, it isn’t really working for me.
The meeting lasted about an hour and I think I heard every third or fourth word. I know I should have been paying attention to the details of the bill because I’d have to speak to broadband internet and phone service and sound as if I knew what the fuck I’m talking about. Actually, I understood quite a bit of it but my job as a lobbyist for the telecom industry was to make it seem as if I actually cared about all of this. I do care, I mean it’s all important and it means so much to so many but when I know my boss wants to talk to me it overpowers every other thing in my brain.
~ * ~
The meeting ends and I’m taking calming breaths to lower my heart rate. I pull my shoulders back and confidently exit the conference room, heading directly for the elevator bank. Mr. Miller’s office is two floors above where I work. I’ve had to go up to the eighth floor for meetings before, just not with Preston. When I’ve had to go upstairs, I would always take the stairs. I’ve got well-toned legs and taking the stairs in heels has been a major contributor to that. However, I need to appear cool and with a calm demeanor; taking the steps would not help with that mission. What it could do is make me huff and puff and give the wrong impression. I would appear out of breath or winded; in other words, potentially weak. Never show the boss a sign of weakness. So, I take the elevator and know that I can rock the calm and cool demeanor with no issues. I meditate in the elevator and employ some of the techniques as I walk toward Preston’s office.
I’m so lost in my meditation that I don’t even realize I’m standing in front of his office until his executive assistant, Margaret, speaks to me. “Good morning, Ms. Hamilton. Mr. Miller will be happy to see that you’ve arrived.” She stepped around her desk to begin walking toward his office.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t call ahead of time. Is he available to meet now or should I come back?” I was suddenly nervous and began to fidget.
Margaret just smiled, “He knew you had a meeting this morning. He cleared his calendar so he could visit with you when your meeting ended.” She motioned for me to follow her towards the large oak doors that led to the corner office. She tapped lightly while she opened the door to the right very slowly, “Ms. Hamilton is here to see you now.”
A deep voice thundered back in response, “Wonderful, show her in Margaret!”
As Margaret stepped out of the way, I tentatively entered the office. It looked just as I remembered from the last time I was here. Large windows looking out over the landscape of the city, making the room bright and airy. It was a nice contrast to the heavy oak desk and credenza where Preston Miller sat. He had a two leather side chairs in front of his desk and I remembered how comfortable they were.
As I walked toward his desk, Mr. Miller stood and pulled his shoulders back, he was an impressive man to be sure. He was almost six foot three, in his early sixties with salt and pepper hair that was amazingly thick and wavy. He was handsome and the wire-rimmed glasses perched on his nose, along with his three-piece suit, gave him such a distinguished look. He smiled at me and it was warm and inviting, not at all threatening and scary as I had feared it would be.
I extended my hand, not sure if it was the proper protocol or not. “Good morning, sir, I do apologize for keeping you waiting.”
He took my hand, shaking lightly, then gestured for me to take a seat. “Nonsense, Greer, I knew you had a meeting this morning.” He took a seat in his large leather chair and steepled his fingers, “So tell me, how are things progressing with your telecom legislation? I believe there are some festivities tonight, correct?”
I shifted slightly in my seat and cleared my throat, “Well, things are progressing nicely. We’ve had a few tweaks to the bill within the last twenty-four hours so I’m reviewing the impact to speak to those points later this evening.” There was a gala event put on by the sponsors of the legislation and I would be attending to rub elbows with the politicians. I would expound the benefits of the legislation and stave off any concerns that this bill would be harmful to competition and only make the marketplace easier for our evening’s host. “For votes, I need four but I am aiming to secure six to be safe.”
As I spoke, Preston watched over me carefully. I assumed he was watching my body language to see if I was giving off any signs that I was less than confident in my words. If I was, it was because the man scared me.
I tried to shake it off and continued, “My assistant is putting together a Congressional target list so I know where to focus my attention. We have been tracking our votes and we want to focus on the ones who were on the fence or who had not committed at all. I also need to make sure these most recent changes did not lose us any votes. My primary focus tonight will be the domino members.”
A smile came to Preston’s lips when I said those words, “Ah, the domino effect! The players who will make the other members fall in line. I am so proud to hear you employ that tactic, Greer. And here you were so afraid you wouldn’t take to lobbying.” Preston let out a laugh as he reached for his glass of water and took a sip, never letting his eyes leave mine. “You know, your success with legislation is why I wanted to speak with you this morning.”
I swallowed hard, this worried me. I had always hoped that Preston would change his mind and send me back to litigation. However, if he thought I was successful he would never consider moving me back. I tried to hide my utter disappointment, “Oh? To what degree?”
Preston stood up and came around to take the seat next to me. He unbuttoned his suit coat and crossed his leg, becoming comfortable and trying to appear casual and friendly in his seat. “Greer, I’ve had my eye on you for some time now. I know you probably think you’ve been flying under the radar but I’ve been closely watching your progress and I’m impressed with how you handle yourself. Every bill you’ve been given has passed and I don’t think I’ve seen anyone out of the gate with that type of success rate.”
I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks; dropping my head I averted Preston’s eyes. “To be fair, the legislation I’ve worked on has been non-controversial and easy to work with. Almost everyone was willing to go with it.”
Preston let out a hearty laugh, “I notice how you said almost everyone. You still have trouble with that one Senator don’t you?”
Cocking my head to the side, I smiled, “Yes, but doesn’t everyone? He is insufferable, I cringe every time his name appears on my target list. I have no idea why Joanie even bothers to list him out! She knows he won’t even entertain a meeting with me and he never votes for any of my legislation. I swear, I could have a bill that states all puppies are cute and cuddly and I think he’d vote against it.”
“Well, he’s not the reason I wanted to talk to you. But he will end up playing a key role in what I want,” Preston said, his tone was ominous. “Look, the telecom bill was an opportunity for you to test your toe in the deep end of the big pool. I knew you could handle yourself but several members of the team were worried about whether you could hold your own.” I scoffed at his words. I was aware that several key members of the Executive Team had always questioned my skill and dedication to the position. Not that I blamed them. I wasn’t sure I could do the job either. “Greer, I’ve know you could do this even if you’ve questioned yourself. And with that in mind, I want to put you on the new contract for Briarwood Technical.”
Now I was freaking out. Briarwood Technical is one of the government’s munitions contractors and every few years they have a contract that comes up for renewal within the Defense Department. This contract has to be reviewed by the Intelligence Committee, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. It is gone over with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that we aren’t being charged ridiculous amounts of money for bullets and missiles and that we get everything we pay for. Getting defense contracts through are a major pain in the ass.
There is a lobbying group strictly for the defense industry and specifically for munitions, the National Association of Ordnance Contractors. This group makes sure everyone is treated fairly and that the same rules apply across the board regardless of the size of the company. That’s all well and good, I applaud their efforts, I really do. But each individual contract still has to be supported, vetted and voted upon before being approved and signed. It is up to folks like me to get Congress to review these contracts favorably and like my company over another company and all that political mumbo jumbo.
“Mr. Miller, I’m stunned that you would consider me for this position. I mean, it’s an honor, but I don’t know that I can handle that just yet. I mean, I don’t know that I have the clout to do for Briarwood what they need to ensure that contract is signed.” I was nervous because I knew if that contract weren’t signed it would be my head on a serving platter.
Preston slapped his thighs and stood up and walked back to his desk and took a seat. “You know you’d have to cozy up to that Senator and get on his good side, right? Does that scare you?”
What? Was he calling me out? “Excuse me? You think I’m afraid of one man?”
“I don’t know, Greer, you tell me. Are you telling me that all the work you’ve done and the job you’re aspiring to do is going to be waylaid because of one man? Are you planning on putting your career on hold until he leaves office? You might never get to do what you want because I don’t think he’s going anywhere.” Preston sat down and began rifling through the paperwork on his desk. He didn’t look up at me, it was as if he was dismissing me out of hand.
“My concern for my ability has nothing to do with him. I am concerned with my background and lack of experience. I don’t want to put our client in an awkward position, that’s all.”
“How about you let me worry about that? Go to your gala event tonight and give it some thought. But I am going to be blunt with you, not taking this position will diminish your chances for advancement in the future. This is your brass ring, don’t let it slip by.”
I nodded and thanked Preston for his time, letting him know I would check in with him in a few days. I softly closed his door behind me and felt as if my brain was in a fog as I walked toward the elevator. I waved goodbye to Margaret and at the last minute, elected to walk down the stairs. Figuring the clicking of my heels and their echo in the stairwell would provide a soundtrack for my thoughts.
I walked into my office and had just sat down when I heard the door shut. I looked up to see Joanie making herself comfortable. While she was my executive assistant, she was also one of my best friends. I had met her through a mutual friend when I moved to DC and we became roommates when we were both stranded at the last minute. Her first roommate flaked out and mine got engaged. Joanie had been working at an advertising agency and kept complaining about how much she hated her boss and her job. So, when I had the approval to hire an assistant, I told her about the position and said if she could handle working for me she should apply. Now, three years later, we still live together and work together. Somehow, our relationship just works.
“What did he want?” She asks as she puts her feet up on my desk and settles into the chair across from me. “Please tell me he’s moving you back to legal and getting us out of legislation!”
I look up and give her a wry smile, “Oh, now why in the world would he go and do something like that? No, he loves me in this position so much that he’s giving me the Briarwood Technical contract to get approved.”
“Holy shit, Greer! That’s huge!”
“Yeah, I know,” I said as I dropped my head to my desk, banging my head slowly on the solid mahogany. “He said I get everything passed and it’s time I move up.” I raised my head and made eye contact with Joanie, “I’ll have to work with the Senator who shall not be named. You know he’s the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee and he’s part of God knows whatever other committees up on the Hill. He’s the biggest damn domino up there and if he isn’t for this contract, it’s sunk.”
Joanie put her feet down and held her stomach as she began to laugh uncontrollably. “What is so damn funny, Joanie?”
“Greer, you just made a Harry Potter reference. Do you really think the Senator is like Lord Voldemort?”
“Of course not! The Senator has hair and a nose for God sake!”