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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 6, 2006

Leadership corner

Full interview with Gary Slovin

Interviewed by Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer

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Age: 64

Title: managing partner

Organization: Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel LLP

High school: Classical High School in Providence, R.I.

College: Brown University, bachelor's degree in history (1963); University of Pennsylvania Law School (1966)

Breakthrough job: director of the state Ethics Commission in the 1970s: "That introduced me to a whole lot of people."

Little-known fact: He once managed a small coffee shop.

Mentor: Philadelphia civil rights attorney Harry Levitan, who gave Slovin his start in the law practice. "He was an extraordinary person who was absolutely dedicated to working to defend the oppressed," Slovin said.

Major challenge: balancing the interests of members of his law firm

Hobbies: tennis, listening to music

Books recently read: "Life of Pi" by Yann Marte

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Q. What's the biggest challenge to being a managing partner of the state's largest law firm?

A. One of the biggest challenges for anyone who does this is managing your time.

I'm adding managerial duties on top of my law practice, which is a busy one. I have a lot of outside not-for-profit community activities as well.

It's a complex organization, and law firms are unique in a sense that lawyers are partners and owners, and we are on equal footing. Associates are also lawyers, and in many cases have equal responsibilities as partners with respect to their clients.

Q. What made you want to be a lawyer?

A. Interestingly, it wasn't something I gave a lot of thought to. There wasn't anything significant that occurred in my life that made me think about law school.

When I was in college, my first interest was to be a doctor, but I wasn't able to go to take organic chemistry classes in summer school like all of my friends. I had to take organic chemistry with all of the chemistry majors, and that was an impossible task. That took care of medical school and got me to thinking about other careers.

After I graduated from law school, I was fortunate to come into contact with a really great lawyer in Philadelphia who had been involved in defending people during the McCarthy era. He was a civil rights lawyer by the name of Harry Levitan, and that was during the civil rights movement.

He was extraordinary person who was absolutely dedicated to working to defend the oppressed. That really got me to see what it was to become a lawyer.

Q. Most of your work these days is lobbying. Is there any difference in your work now that there's a Republican administration?

A. Actually, no.

On the regulatory side, I would say no. The fact is, most work in government is carried out by people who have been there over the years. They are professionals who do the day-to-day work, and they're the ones that have the expertise.

Even with a new governor and a new mayor, you find that you're dealing with the same people over and over again.

The governor and the department head have their roles to play in terms of making policy, but they can't be in the position of consistently overruling what the staff does.

One, the staff has the level of expertise that the governor and department heads have to acquire from working with those folks. Our civil servants tend to be there for a long period of time, and those are the folks you deal with.

Having worked in state government, I have found that the middle management level is where most of the work gets done, and where most of the decisions are really made.

Q. You worked in state government?

A. In the early 1970s, I worked in the Legislative Reference Bureau and was director of the state Ethics Commission before I served as corporation counsel under then-mayor Eileen Anderson.

Having the experience of doing this in government has been some help with my work today.

One of the things I learned is that in managing any organization, people have similar challenges, whether it be personal and professional or inter-office issues.

A lot of the problems that clients have with government these days is a lack of understanding.

You have two sides: A government side and a private side, and everyone tends to talk past each other. It can be rewarding to get each side to understand each other.

Lawmakers are a lot more accessible than in other places. Clients that come here from the Mainland are surprised by that. It's relatively easy to get ahold of legislators. But that's not to say the process is easy because it is not.

Q. The lobbyist profession has undergone significant turmoil recently with the criminal investigation of Washington, D.C., lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Are there any parallels here?

A. There are, of course, people doing the wrong thing and give lobbying a bad name. But it's a different style here than on the Mainland. Lobbying here relies more on person-to-person relationships with lawmakers.

A lot of it is based on relationships, but those relationships come from trust over a long period of time.

The lobbyist today serves a critical function.

About 2,600 bills have been introduced in this year's Legislature, and 3,000 bills last year. Although a small portion of them become law, our job is to monitor and evaluate them.

The lobbyist comes in to provide information, experience and data that legislators are not going to have readily at hand. The lobbyist's job is to distinguish the good material from the bad material.

Reach Rick Daysog at rdaysog@honoluluadvertiser.com.