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Women Bisnow
November 27, 2007

Immigrants' Daughter Flies High

This issue of Washington Women is presented by
The Reznick Group:
"Building Business Value"

by Karin Tanabe, for Bisnow on Business

Last year for the holidays, Jamie Gorelick and her husband Rich Waldhorn gave dozens of emergency radios to their friends and family to crank into action if need be. The general consensus was, “If Jamie and Rich are giving these out, what do they know that we don’t know?” A whole lot. “We’ll come back from work and both cringe,” says Jamie of her and her husband Rich, Distinguished Scholar at the Center for Bio Security of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “It can be dispiriting. Between the two of us we know a lot of scary things.”

Jamie Gorelick, a partner at WilmerHale well known for her work on the 9/11 Commission and as Deputy Attorney General, grew up in New York during the halcyon Fifties. A child of immigrants, Jamie found her childhood filled with patriotism and activism. “One minute I would be walking in a Girl Scout parade and the next I would be handing out pamphlets on nuclear proliferation,” she says.

Originally hoping to become an academic, Jamie accepted a Fulbright to England after graduating from Harvard, but soon decided a career of burning the midnight oil in solitary study was not for her. She went off to Harvard Law “at the last minute,” and spent the first 18 years of her legal career “going deep”—learning about the law and becoming accomplished as a litigator. “I did a lot of pro bono work in women’s rights and civil liberties which I married up with an interest in law enforcement and national security – not the most obvious pairing.”

When Jamie first arrived in Washington in 1975 to join Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin, she was the first woman in the firm, and for quite a while, the only female partner. “Now the structure of employment is much more amenable to having a family. Before, if you left a law firm, it was hard to go back to private practice. Today, the fluidity of movement has made it a much more welcoming profession for women.”

In 1993 Jamie left private practice to become General Counsel of DoD. The next year she was appointed Deputy Attorney General to Janet Reno. Jamie was certain that the White House would not want two women at the helm but they certainly did, and Jamie spent over three years there. “That was long for a Deputy,” she says. "The DoJ is extremely horizontal with very few layers of supervision.  I had a voice and Reno always asked my view on matters. In the Lincoln book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, the portrait she painted of Lincoln really reminded me of Janet Reno.  She knew how to make the best judgments she could without letting politics affect her. I aspire to that quality but I don’t have anywhere near the thick skin that she has. She is able to take criticism with out letting it get to her.”

In ’97 Jamie became Vice Chair of Fannie Mae, returning to private practice in 2003 at WilmerHale. “This firm supported me as I worked on the 9/11 Commission,” says Jamie, who was appointed by Democratic leader Dick Gephardt.  “In many respects it was unique.  We decided to have no independent staff. We would do everything in a plenary fashion. You could pick issues that interested you and dive into them.”

Today Jamie, who maintains her security clearances, keeps her involvement in national security serving as Chair of Defense, National Security and Government Contracts and Chair of Public Policy and Strategy for WilmerHale. Says Jamie: "The companies that own the critical infrastructure of the US, which is 98% in private hands, have to be in close partnership with the government. I feel passionately that the two need to work closely together, while minding their fiduciary duties, or we will be very vulnerable as a country.”

How did she keep her perspective with big jobs?  General Counsel at the DoD had the rank of a four-star general. “People of lesser rank, which is just about everyone, stand up when you come in the room,” says Jamie. “You can get pretty full of yourself. Having small children is a wonderful antidote to the head swelling that comes with high rank.  You need to have a window into the lives of ordinary people, and being a parent does that for you.”

Many say that if there is a Democratic president, Jamie is a top choice for Attorney General. “There are very few seats I haven’t sat in already,” says Jamie when we ask about her ’08 aspirations. “The 9/11 Commission lasted until 2005. I’m not as hungry as my friends who have been out since 2000. It’s not something I’m looking to do.”

And if you are lucky enough to be on Jamie’s holiday list, what can you be looking forward to this year? “I don’t know yet,” she says. “Escape packs perhaps.”

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