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Newly minted attorneys, welcome and congratulations on your hard-earned jobs! Let me offer you some tips for success in Washington — three of them, because that’s all I’ve got. First, you must decide whether to hum along in your current job or become a job hopper, what we might call a True Washington Professional. If you choose the latter, start thinking about all your future ventures and how you will become a Casanova conquering one job after another. Those of you who started garnishing your résumés with fancy internships while still in your teens have come to the right place. Washington is replete with titles and experiences for you to collect: legislative director for a trade association, staff counsel to a congressman, principal associate deputy undersecretary, plus all the titles from leadership positions in bar associations and other volunteer organizations. The game is, of course, not limited to lawyers. I know of an economist who has not yet turned 40, but has already worked in the federal government, a state government, industry, a trade association, a consulting group, a research lab, and an NGO. He’s a D.C. decathlete, or at least a heptathelete so far. Working your way along, you will cash in one title for another and hop from one job to the next. You’ll be well traveled, if poorly rested, like the survivors of those 10-day, nine-country European trips. The more and varied your jobs, the greater your accomplishments are presumed to be. No one will ask what you did as associate national director for the national association of national associations. If you do work on something important — and making photocopies counts as work — put it on your résumé. As time passes, you will notice that an important project has a Woodstock effect — everyone claims to have been part of it. LAME DUCK The downside of being a True Washington Professional is that others will judge you unfavorably when they conclude your future prospects are dimming. For example, a United States president just elected to a second four-year term, with a nuclear arsenal at his disposal, stands as the most powerful person in the world. But he is one of few people already ruled out of the next presidential race and therefore amounts to a lame duck. Personally, I don’t think that someone whose desk is in the Oval Office is a lame duck — more like a superduck, in my mind. But to Washingtonians, he has nowhere to go but down. Hence, he is lame. Being a True Washington Professional entails constant job hunting, the equivalent of our politicians’ constant campaigning. But you must be evasive; honesty about job hunting tends to cause trouble in the workplace. More important, however, job hunting means you have not caught anything, at least not what you are currently hunting for. It is this evidence of failure that makes job hunting such an embarrassment in Washington. So while planning your next move, you must stay on message. It should play out as follows: • Monday: I am tremendously excited about all the challenges here at AlphaGalpha. • Tuesday: I am very excited about working with my wonderful colleagues here at AlphaGalpha. • Wednesday: I am looking forward to all of the exciting opportunities at GammaSlamma. As you can see, in addition to deception, the job-hopping game is filled with excitement. It’s a wonder there aren’t more reports of True Washington Professionals bursting into song. ABSURDLY BROAD ANSWERS But what to do if someone asks you whether you are job hunting? No one likes to be caught in a lie. Tip No. 2: Learn the ABA. Not the American Bar Association but the Absurdly Broad Answer. The ABA will bail you out when someone seeks a specific answer from you, as it lets you respond to the question, but only so as to eliminate the most extreme possibilities. If a suspicious colleague asks whether you are job hunting, your ABA-guided reply could be: “Would I consider taking a high-level West Wing job? Yes. Am I spending all my waking hours job hunting? No.” The questioner will draw the conclusion he or she is seeking — that you may be leaving or will stay on for years. But you gave nothing away. The ABA is also useful for other professional entanglements. We lawyers suffer from competing fears of being wrong and not being right. Your boss may ask you whether a given argument should be added to a brief. You can reply, “Is it a slam-dunk winner? No. But could it help? Yes.” Although your words were low on content, your boss will nod sagely and then do whatever he or she wants. Avoid overusing the ABA, however; even we lawyers can sometimes give a straight answer. I once received this response to a lunch suggestion: “Could I imagine having a slice of pizza? Yes. But would I eat nothing else? No.” I went out alone. A third tip for success is to learn the clichés. This is useful because nobody ever got in too much trouble for spouting a cliché, but many fine people have found themselves in a mess after a burst of original thinking. To become cliché-certified, you first start sprinkling about the usual buzzwords: incentive, efficiency, innovation, moving forward, consumer-friendly, etc. Start joining them in sentences, for example: “These consumer-friendly innovations will move us forward and create incentives for efficiency.” Use incentive as a verb. For every cliché there is an equal and opposite cliché. So to prepare for battle you must learn the cliché dichotomies. A prime example in the regulatory world where I reside is “safe harbor” and “lowest common denominator.” They concern the same thing: that parties can and will flock to the least-challenging regulatory standard they are offered. But what a different picture they paint. Safe harbor: A valiant little boat steers its way through a storm to a safe harbor. The little engine that could! And the children got their toys! Lowest common denominator: a race to the bottom, mankind’s basest instincts, civilization might collapse. So if you want the regulator to set an easily attainable standard, you plead earnestly for a safe harbor; if you oppose this, you warn gravely against adoption of the lowest common denominator. There you have it. A guide to ambition, elusiveness, and the local lexicology. If I ever corner you and demand to know whether this advice was valuable, you could respond: “Was it the greatest career guide I ever read? No. But is it possible that it incented me to move forward? Yes.” I will, of course, take it as a compliment.
Gunnar Birgisson is an associate in the D.C. office of Bracewell & Giuliani. The views expressed herein are his own, unless someone finds them offensive, in which case they are not.

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