Why did you decide to become an attorney?
Even as a kid, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. Granted, I had no idea what that meant. I don’t think I even met a lawyer until I was in college, but I knew I wanted to be one.
What led you to the government side of the law?
I was always into government, politics, and elections as a kid. I would always stay up all night watching election results (still do). I always wanted to work in Washington DC and was lucky enough to achieve that dream.
Of your specializations, which is your favorite?
I very much enjoy trial work, and do a few every year. I enjoy arguing cases on appeal, but the brief writing has become a bit tedious. Fortunately, I have a strong team to help with that.
Is government friend, foe, or opportunity?
In order, opportunity, friend and foe. Most of my living depends on dealing with the government on behalf of clients, so it is always an opportunity. Having worked for the government, I have great respect for most government employees and officials. I rarely see them as foes and I am friendly with many. They have a job to do, and most times they do it honestly and well. I won’t mention the few exceptions.
How has government advocacy law changed in the past 25 years?
Frankly, not much. All advocacy requires you to think of the case from the perspective of the other side. I always have tried to understand their marketplace and constraints, so I can make an argument or propose a solution that can work for them. Most lawyers don’t do that; they think only of their side and make demands.
In retrospect, was it more fun to be deputy director of revenue or general counsel to the Governor?
Both were great jobs, but the thrill of working in the Governor’s office wins out. I remember reading a book about baseball when I was young, and an older player told a younger one, “when you come to the ballpark, don’t forget to tingle” Working in the Governor’s office was tingle-worthy, every day.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I grew up in a family where being a lawyer was unimaginable. No one else had graduated from college, and I had to figure it out myself. Getting from there to Stanford, to the Governor’s office, to the practice I have now, is something I am very proud of. That, and being a reasonably normal human being at the same time.
What brought you to the Republican side?
I believe the combination of a democracy (with some checks and balances) and a free market economy is the greatest engine for opportunity and freedom that the world has ever created. That makes you a Republican.
What is your favorite Gov. Blunt story?
This one is easy. In December 2008, just before he left office, Governor Blunt and Melanie hosted a formal dinner for the cabinet and senior staff at the Mansion. My then girlfriend (now wife), Jane Drummond, was the Director of the Department of Health and Senior Services. I proposed to her just before the dinner, and we had a wonderful evening at the Mansion. Afterwards, Governor Blunt (a very practical and frugal man) said, “That was smart, you are supposed to spend three months’ salary on the ring, and your salary is going up when you go back to Husch.”
How did serving as the governor’s chief counsel change your law practice?
There is no doubt that the knowledge about government and the contacts I made elevated my profile and gave me the chance to generate business that I could not have done otherwise. That was a pretty big challenge in 2009 because of the economy. I am forever grateful to Husch Blackwell that they gave me the time for that to work, because it took longer than I predicted.
Do you prefer DC or JC?
My life in Washington was great, in that I got to work for two major law firms, serve as chief counsel of a presidential campaign, and be policy wonk for the Judicial Conference of the United States. Even so, I prefer working in a state capital where you know everybody, where there is accountability, and where things actually do get done.
Have you ever considered running for office? If so, what office?
Not once since I lost the election for yearbook editor in high school. I ran a great campaign, but when you have a bad candidate, there is only so much you can do.
How did your life change after getting pneumonia?
It was pretty harrowing, as I got sick in Salt Lake visiting my mom a month after my dad had died, and had to get back for surgery on oxygen on a plane. After a few months of thinking about platitudes like “living life one day at a time” I would say the lesson was that I am not indispensable. I was absent from work at the Governor’s office for five weeks and everything was fine. By the way, I am eternally grateful to Gov. Blunt, Chief of Staff Trish Vincent, and my deputy counsel Nick Frey for their patience and understanding.
Who inspires you?
My parents, who had little education and no money, but devoted their entire lives with many sacrifices to their three children. My wife, Jane, who is the smartest, funniest and best person I have ever known (OK, I might be funnier). I want them to think I am doing right by them.
Who would play you in a movie?
Given my appearance, I think I would be great as Mr. Potatohead. Or maybe Mr. Magoo, because I have terrible vision.
What do you listen to in the car?
Howard Stern. I like to Hit ‘em with the Hein.
If you could only eat at one restaurant in Jefferson City for the rest of your life, where would you eat?
Murry’s in Columbia
How many pairs of glasses do you own?
Just one. Which is weird, now that you ask. I am currently in a contact lens phase, so the nerd glasses are mostly on the shelf.
How do you relax?
I like to hang out with my wife and dogs. I try pretty hard to compartmentalize my life and not work at home, so just leaving the office is a good start.
Do you have any pets?
Four. In order of awesomeness: 1. Ruby, my brilliant border collie, who excels at fetch, dog agility, and judgmental staring. 2. Romeo, our American shepherd with health problems, who excels at being taken to daycare three times a week. 3. Rocket J, Jane’s Chihuahua, who excels at unneeded barking. 4. The cat.
What’s the best movie you’ve seen in the past year?
Isle of Dogs. Who doesn’t love a story about plucky underdogs who cleverly work together against all odds to depose a tyrant that they despise? In addition to being a heartwarming story about doggies, I assume it is highly inspirational to Democrats in Congress.
How do you take your coffee?
Black. My dad worked for a coffee company and putting anything in coffee was forbidden.
From Utah to Mizzou to Stanford, how did you pick your now-alma maters?
Utah- I grew up a block from the campus, so I always assumed I would go to college there. Didn’t even apply anywhere else. Stanford- I visited the campus when I was eight and decided I was going to go to law school there. So, when I got in, pretty easy decision. Mizzou-I was interested in the dispute resolution program, and since this is my adopted home, I thought it would be nice to have a degree from the University of Missouri.
What advice would you give a law student looking to focus on government? Learn everything you can about how government works. Don’t take jobs for the money, but for the interest you have in doing the work. Don’t work for people to you don’t admire.
Rachael Herndon is the editor at The Missouri Times, and also produces This Week in Missouri Politics, publishes Missouri Times Magazine, and co-hosts the #moleg podcast. She joined the Missouri Times in 2014, returning to political reporting after working as a campaign and legislative staffer.
Rachael studied at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She lives in Jefferson City with her husband, Brandon, and their two children.
To contact Rachael, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter @TheRachDunn.