Denise Davis & Lisa Kaufman

The Value of Teamwork in Lobbying the Texas Legislature

 

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After over a year of posting interviews on Pink Granite, I've slowly started to receive a stream of suggestions from readers regarding who they'd like to hear from working in and around the Capitol. It's consistently been recommended to me that I reach out to the dynamic lobbying duo this is Lisa Kaufman and Denise Davis. I've met the two of them briefly during my days working for a campaign firm and their reputations proceed them as not only incredible lobbyists but also as a great example of women supporting other women in our sometimes cutthroat industry.

Here's what they have to say about working together, getting started in the lobby and becoming really good at your job. Enjoy!

 

Where do you work, what is your title and what does your job actually entail? 

LISA:   I am a partner with the law firm/lobby shop of Davis Kaufman PLLC.  My job entails providing legal and legislative advice to our clients and representing our clients before the Texas legislature and executive branch agencies.  We have a broad spectrum of clients from civil justice/liability to healthcare to pensions to criminal justice to budget.

DENISE:   I am a partner with Davis Kaufman law firm, and Lisa Kaufman and I started the firm in 2012.  We lobby and practice both corporate and  legislative law in our firm.  

How long have you been performing this work?

LISA:   I have worked in and around the Texas Legislature for 21 years (15 inside the Capitol and 6 with Davis Kaufman).  Before that I worked in the U.S. Capitol for 4 years.  

DENISE:   I have worked in the legislative arena for over 25 years, mostly in the Capitol but also at the Texas Judicial Council (under the Texas Supreme Court) and in private practice at a large law firm.

Where are you from?

LISA:   Houston, Texas

DENISE:   I was born in Lubbock, Texas and raised in Garland , Texas so I consider myself a West-Texan who was raised in the DFW Metroplex!

What did you study in college and where did you attend school?

LISA:   I went to Washington University in St. Louis for undergrad where I double majored in history and political science.  I received my law degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

DENISE:   I attended the University of Texas at Austin, where I majored in Government, and received my law degree from UT Law School.

Political party affiliation?

LISA:   I consider myself an independent.

DENISE:   I consider myself an independent


"In addition, the ability to be a 'straight shooter' with legislators is also important.  It’s better to say that you don’t know the answer but will find out than to mislead a member." 


How did you get your start in government relations? 

LISA:   While I was still in college, I did two internships that initially sparked my interest in the legislative process (at that time, I didn’t know it was called “government relations”).  First, during my junior year, I spent a semester interning for a Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons in London.   The following year, in 1986, I spent a semester interning at the Department of Justice, Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) in legislative affairs.  During this internship, Congress passed the Immigration & Naturalization Act of 1986 which requires all employers to verify that an employee is a United States citizen (you will recognize this process every time you start a new job).  This was my first real experience is shepherding a piece of legislation through a legislative body, in this case, the U.S. Congress. 

College graduation was followed by three years in law school and then four years in the litigation department of a large international law firm before returning to politics. I began my career on Capitol Hill as an attorney; first, for the U.S. House of Representatives Government Operations Committee (Bill Clinger, Chairman, R-Pennsylvania) and later, for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee (Orrin Hatch, Chairman, R-Utah). 

In 1997, I returned to my home state of Texas and began working as the General Counsel to then-freshman Senator Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock).  Over the 11 years I worked for Senator Duncan, he became chairman of the Senate Jurisprudence Committee and then the Senate State Affairs Committee.  I also served as the Committee Director for those committees, respectively.  My final stint in the Capitol was from 2009-2012 when I served as the Director of Budget and Policy for Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).  In 2012, I left the Capitol and opened my own law firm/lobby shop with my law partner, Denise Davis.

DENISE:   I started in the Capitol right out of UT as an undergraduate in 1989.   I needed a job for one year before starting law school and luckily, was hired for a position that was only scheduled to last for one year!  That position was as a mail clerk in Lt. Governor Bill Hobby’s office, where I answered constituent mail every day.  Shortly after starting there, I was given the opportunity to work with the Chief of Staff (Saralee Tiede) on other projects like proclamations, speeches, and press releases.  I left that position in 1990 to attend law school.

After I graduated from law school 1993, I went to work at the Texas Legislative Council (TLC) as a drafting attorney.  I was at the Council when Governor George W. Bush worked with both sides of the aisle to pass a major legislative agenda, which was really exciting.  From there, it was back to the Senate as a Committee Director for Senator Rodney G. Ellis, then to the Supreme Court of Texas to work on judicial policy at the Texas Judicial Council with then-Chief Justice Tom Phillips (where I got to travel to the Republic of Ireland to train court employees on public information and open records).  

I then worked for Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff as his general counsel from 2001-Jan 2003, and then for the Texas House of Representatives as Deputy Parliamentarian and then House Parliamentarian.  That continued for a number of years, and then I resigned in May 2007 and subsequently went into private practice at a large law firm.  I returned to the Capitol in January 2009 to serve as House Parliamentarian and, in 2010, as Chief of Staff for the Speaker of the Texas House.   I served in that position until 2012 when I left to start the Firm with my friend and law partner, Lisa Kaufman. 

When did you know you wanted to work at the capitol and later become a lobbyist?

LISA:   I knew that I wanted to work at the Texas Capitol after working in the U.S. Capitol.  Becoming a lobbyist was a natural progression after 15 years inside and having worked at a high level in both chambers.

DENISE:   I have always been interested in public service and the law, so becoming a legislative lawyer was an easy decision for me.  And after working at senior levels in both chambers, starting my own practice was the next logical step.

What do you find to be essential skill sets/personality traits for being a good lobbyist?

LISA:   Honesty and integrity are the most important.  Being a hard worker.  Doing your homework and knowing your subjects.  Knowing how to disagree without being disagreeable.

DENISE:   Being able to listen to all sides of an argument and compromise and the ability to multi-task (similar to when I was House Parliamentarian and, also like most moms do every day) are critical.  In addition, the ability to be a “straight shooter” with legislators is also important.  It’s better to say that you don’t know the answer but will find out than to mislead a member.  


"Knowing how to disagree without being disagreeable."


I’m a young woman and I want to be a lobbyist. What do I do now? How do I get started in this career?

LISA:   Spend time working inside the Capitol, ideally on both sides of the dome.

DENISE:   Get to know as many folks in the Capitol as possible and work in both chambers.  Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom of the food chain and work your way up because there is always something to learn along the way!!

What is the most rewarding part of your current job? Biggest challenge?

LISA:   The most rewarding is helping our clients solve problems. The most challenging is negotiating through the partisan nature of politics. 

DENISE:   The most rewarding part of my practice is being able to share my technical expertise with clients so that they can get the best outcome possible.  Their success in the Capitol is my success.  The most challenging is remembering all of the names of the staff in the Capitol—everyone is so young!


"Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom of the food chain and work your way up because there is always something to learn along the way!"


Anything you find to be misunderstood about your profession?

LISA:   I think people think it just involves entertaining legislators and it isn’t really very difficult.

DENISE:   Like most people, I thought lobbyists just partied all of the time.  It wasn’t until I actually became a senior Capitol staffer and, a lobbyist myself, that I truly and fully realized how critical they are to process because they provide an incredible amount of expertise and insight on issues that members otherwise would not receive. 

Describe a time that you knew you were "good" at your job.

LISA:   I have had the opportunity, both inside the Capitol and outside as a lobbyist, to negotiate some very complex (and often technical) legislation.  When I have been able to do that successfully, I knew I was “good” at my job.

DENISE:   I always want to do better and get to the next level both as a lobbyist and as a lawyer, but when I am able to provide good strategic advice to a client that gets them the best result possible, I am usually very happy!

Hardest bill you’ve ever had to lobby? Greatest lobbying success.

DENISE:   Probably the telemedicine bill that passed last session.  It was truly a consensus bill with LOTS of stakeholders.  It was the hardest bill and one of the greatest successes for our firm.  I was very lucky to have a great negotiator working on it with me-my law partner, Lisa-and great staff and lobbyists from numerous parts of the industry. 

Do you mind sharing a little bit about your relationship working together, how you learn from one another or share in successes as a team? Any tips on nurturing a relationship with other women in your workplace?

LISA:   Denise and I knew shortly after we first met that someday we would have a business together.  I’m not sure how we knew…we just knew.  We have very different working styles and very different strengths and weaknesses.  Because of that, we rarely step on each other’s toes, are complimentary of each other and have a high deal of respect for each other both personally and professionally.  I learn from Denise every day. 

Women in the lobby generally tend to help each other.  I am incredibly grateful for those who paved the way before me.  And I am always happy to help those coming up the ladder.  We girls need to stick together!

DENISE:   I agree with Lisa’s comments on this.  Lisa and I came up through the Capitol together, both as working moms and lawyers.  It was always great to have someone going through the same experiences as me, and who had my back when I needed it most!  And we do have totally different work styles which has been fantastic both for our practice and for maintaining a really good working relationship.  We do tend to wear the same color combinations to work sometimes, which is hilarious!


"Women in the lobby generally tend to help each other.  I am incredibly grateful for those who paved the way before me.  And I am always happy to help those coming up the ladder.  We girls need to stick together!"


how do lobbyists find clients, and what’s the process like for gaining that contract?  Any tips for landing your very first client?

LISA:   I have found that lobbyists find clients in two ways: (1) from personal and business contacts outside of the Capitol; and (2) from/through other lobbyists.  Alternatively, if you are coming from inside the Capitol and have developed a particular expertise, people you worked with when you are on the inside, may be able to help.  My best tip would be to reach out to everyone you know, including those in the lobby, to see if anyone would be willing to put you on a lobby team.  That’s a great way to get your feet wet and develop your street cred. 

DENISE:   My advice is to find an area of expertise that you like and do it well, and make sure that others know what your strengths are.   And good relationships are essential.

You could never do your job without __________.

LISA:   Being able to bounce ideas and strategies off of my law partner, Denise.

DENISE:   Talking through really complex policy ideas with Lisa.  No one knows the budget better than her!

Best professional advice you’ve ever received?

LISA:   As a woman, don’t underestimate yourself or price yourself too low (that wise counsel comes from an amazing mentor, The Honorable Harriett O’Neill).

DENISE:   Your word is the most important currency you have in the Capitol. 

Advice you wish you could give your younger self?

LISA:   Don’t be afraid to be your own boss.

DENISE:   Don’t be afraid to take risks and, if necessary, to fail.

Any leadership programs, mentorship opportunities or organizations you’d recommend someone getting started in politics join/or investigate?

DENISE:   I spend time volunteering for The Links, Incorporated and my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Incorporated.  I have found some of my best mentors and support networks in these organizations, so I strongly encourage women to join women’s professional groups for that support as well. 

Best tip(s) for staying organized?

LISA:  Keep a to do list!  And check it off as you go.

DENISE:   Ditto.  We are all about lists in this office!


"Your word is the most important currency you have in the Capitol. "


Best tip(s) for networking?

LISA:   Don’t be afraid to ask people to have coffee or drinks with you.  The old adage “politics makes strange bedfellows” is true so the more people you have in your tribe, the better.   

DENISE:   Spend time just getting to know folks before you need help!!

You can have dinner with anyone, living or dead - who and why?

LISA:  My mom because she was my rock and I miss her everyday.

DENISE:   My mom.  She was an incredible woman. 

What’s always in your bag during session?

LISA:  Blister bandaids :( and a cell phone charger.

DENISE:  Chargers, gum, and headphones.

Favorite place for a business lunch?

LISA:   Vinaigrette

DENISE:   Our office is great, but if I’m going out, the Four Seasons is my favorite. 

Favorite place to get your news?

LISA:   Quorum Report and Texas Tribune

DENISE:   Quorum, Texas Tribune AND I also love Capitol Inside.  Great analysis.

Favorite political TV show/movie?

LISA:   House of Cards

DENISE:   House of Cards

Favorite social media apps?  

DENISE:   Twitter

Favorite book for career advice.  

DENISE:   The 48 Laws of Power.  A great read!

If you weren’t in your current role you’d definitely be a ____________.

LISA:   Heading a philanthropic foundation that gives away lots and lots of money to the myriad of worthy causes out there.

DENISE:    Special education teacher, which was what I wanted to be until about 10th grade. 


Tremendous thanks to Denise and Lisa for their willingness to share their expertise with Pink Granite. If you have anyone you'd like to recommend for our next interview (including yourself!) visit the contact page.  To learn more about Denise and Lisa's lobbying firm, click here.