Rudy Giuliani – former Mayor of NYC

5 minutes with... Rudy Giuliani

Rudy GiulianiStarting out, what did you expect from a career in the law?

What I wanted to be when I graduated was a litigator. That was my only real desire. After graduating, I clerked for US District Court Judge Lloyd MacMahon and worked for the US Attorney's Office. After seven years I went to Washington and joined the Justice Department [becoming Associate Deputy Attorney General in the Ford administration], which is how I was introduced to Washington politics.

What do you consider to have been your big break?

Becoming a law clerk for Judge Lloyd MacMahon. I did that to enhance my chances of getting into the US Attorney's Office. Judge MacMahon was a great teacher and I learned more from him in a year than I learned in three years of law school. As soon as I finished my clerkship I joined the US Attorney's Office, and started prosecuting cases against New York criminals.

What differences do you see in today’s legal market compared to when you started?

The legal market was much more open then. There were more opportunities and more jobs around. If you were in the top third of your law school you were pretty much guaranteed a job. The downside was that the pay was not great. My first salary as a clerk was $6,900. In those days law firms were paying a starting salary of $15,000.

What achievement are you most proud of?  

Arguing before the US Supreme Court was undoubtedly the highlight of my career. I represented the government in Bell v the United States. It was a bank robbery case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The other trial I am most proud of is the Parking Violations Bureau case of 1987. It was a racketeering case against a number of New York politicians. I just really like going to court.

What do you consider your greatest failure or regret?

Well, I've certainly had a few political failures. There was losing the Republican Presidential Primary in 2008 and losing the first New York mayoral election I stood in, in 1989. I'm not sure what I see as my greatest failure as a lawyer. I haven't had any big legal failures. I have lost some cases over the years and there were maybe a couple of people I didn't manage to prosecute while I worked for the US Attorney's Office, but there is nothing about my legal career I look back on and am disappointed about.

What law would you want to change, abolish or create?

Probably I'd get rid of that law against smoking cigars. I happen to be a dedicated cigar smoker and there are now only three or four places in New York where you can smoke. But on a more serious note, the law I would abolish is ObamaCare. It is devastating to our healthcare system and economy. If I could, I would also streamline and improve the regulatory systems for business which exist under federal law. I would cut down the number of regulations by around two thirds.

Who is your legal hero?  

I have had several. My first was Judge Lloyd MacMahon, who I clerked for. He essentially taught me how to be a lawyer. Then there's Whitney North Seymour and Paul Curran – the two US Attorneys I worked for when I first started out as a lawyer. I admired them too. Historically the lawyer I most admire is Thomas E Dewey. He was a politician but also a District Attorney and a US Attorney who was a great prosecutor.

What career would you have in your second life?

In a sense I had a second as a politician, mayor and political candidate. But if I had not run for office and gone into politics I would have been perfectly happy being a lawyer. But if I'd had a second life, I think I would become a doctor – even with all the terrible regulations in the medical profession.

How would you like to be remembered? 

My personal slogan is 'accountability' – you need to be accountable for the things that you do. I also often give talks about leadership and what I tell people is that they must be optimistic. That, too, is one of my strong beliefs.

If you had to choose between politics and the law, which would you choose?

If I had to choose between the two, I would be a lawyer, because it's a much more permanent thing to be. You are in control of your own life as a lawyer. In politics other people can vote you in and out of office and determine where your life goes.

What words of advice would you have for people starting out in the law?

Select a good initial experience. Get the best training possible. Those first few years of training and legal practice are more important than people realize.

If you have a clear sense that you want to be a tax, corporate, litigation or administrative lawyer, then go to a law firm that will give you a well-rounded experience in that area. If you don't know what area you're interested in, go to the best law firm you can get into and learn how to become a general lawyer, while you figure out what your passion is.

You have to go to a place with good teachers when you leave law school. Pick the firm or agency where they will teach you and help you. Find a firm with a good program for training their associates.

Clerking can also be a great learning experience – as I discovered myself – in part because so much of our law develops through judges' opinions. It's important to learn about that process whether you become a litigator or a transactional lawyer.