Nancy Garrison

Current Job: Retired
YLS year: J.D. 1973


What do you do?

Until my retirement in September 2012, I was an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice, Antitrust Division, Appellate Section. I analyzed, briefed and argued civil, criminal, and regulatory cases in the federal courts of appeals, and worked on Supreme Court matters. My specialties included competition issues in telecommunications and other regulated industries.  Since retiring, I’ve been exploring a variety of volunteer opportunities and personal interests and have continued to participate in the Yale Law alumni activities and YLW summer mentoring.

How did you get there?

In 1970, it was unusual for women to pursue legal careers. There was only one woman on the Yale Law faculty and very few women lawyers or judges. More women were entering law school, however, and I was one of about twenty-five in the YLS class of 1973. My interest in appellate work started with the Yale Moot Court; I was in the prize trial and a member of the moot court board. My first job after graduation was as an associate at Bingham, Dana and Gould (now Bingham McCutchen) in Boston. (Many judges were reluctant to hire women as law clerks, and my clerkship applications were unsuccessful.) In 1975, I moved to Washington, D.C. as an associate at Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering (now Wilmer Hale). I worked primarily in the antitrust and communications groups, and argued one case before a Maryland state appellate court. From Wilmer, I joined the Antitrust Division, Appellate Section, which offered staff attorneys the opportunity to brief and argue several court of appeals cases each year. In part because my work included appeals related to the government’s antitrust case against AT&T, I was appointed an assistant chief of the Division’s Telecommunications and Finance Section, where I briefed, argued, and supervised post-divestiture matters under the AT&T consent decree, as well as antitrust investigations and competition-related regulatory filings. Preferring appellate practice to management, I eventually returned to the Appellate Section, and was primarily responsible for briefing and arguing AT&T decree cases in the D.C. Circuit. After the decree was superseded by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, I worked on FCC cases in the courts of appeals and the Supreme Court, as well as antitrust appeals and amicus briefs. In 2001-2002, I taught a seminar at Georgetown University Law Center, as an adjunct professor.

What was your day-to-day work like?

Attorneys in the Antitrust Division, Appellate Section, as one would expect, research and develop legal arguments, write and edit briefs, and prepare for and present oral arguments. In addition, we draft recommendations to the Solicitor General as to whether the United States should appeal an adverse decision, participate in a case as amicus curiae, or file a petition for certiorari; we advise DOJ attorneys on legal issues; and we do training and diversity outreach.

Why did you choose antitrust work?

Antitrust work provides opportunities to learn about many different industries; to explore complex legal, economic, and policy issues; and to litigate civil, criminal, and administrative cases.

What did you like about the DOJ?

For the most part, the people are great and the work is interesting and challenging. I felt that what I did was important, and that my views and accomplishments were appreciated and respected. DOJ attorneys take pride in trying to do the right thing and in representing the United States rather than private interests. Our long-time section chief made the Antitrust Appellate Section an especially good place to work. She is an outstanding expert on antitrust law and appellate advocacy, a superb government manager, and a wonderful friend.

How is appellate work different from trial work and how did you decide which you prefer?

“Trial work” and “appellate work” are more complex and varied than the terms might suggest. Both require mastery of substantive law and procedural rules and standards, as well as careful and persuasive written and oral advocacy. The main distinction, of course, is that trial attorneys create the record on which a judgment will be based; appellate attorneys take the record as given and defend or seek to overturn the judgment under the applicable standard of review. In the Antitrust Division, few cases go to trial. Trial attorneys spend most of their time on investigations, case recommendations, and plea or consent decree negotiations, and appellate attorneys do more than brief and argue appeals. I got into appellate work early on, liked it, and was good at it.


What was most valuable about your YLS experience?

A Yale Law degree is an academic and professional credential that commands respect and opens doors to many opportunities. The most valuable part of the YLS experience – which I didn’t fully appreciate while I was a student – is the people. My classmates, professors, and the many other students, alumni, and faculty I’ve met over the years are thoughtful, impressive, and very willing to talk and to help whenever they can.

What skills do you rely on now but that law school did not emphasize enough?

The emphasis at Yale Law in the 1970s was on substantive law and on research, writing, and advocacy. Clinical programs were new, and students were not encouraged to seek out mentors. I did not learn until later how to develop and use personal and professional connections, organize team projects, work effectively with others, and provide leadership and guidance. As technology developed, attorneys have had to learn new ways of doing everything from cite checking to sending messages, and it is even more important to be comfortable with science, economics, math, and statistics.


What do you view as your biggest accomplishment?

When I filed a brief or argued a case, the United States was well-represented. I was prepared, articulate, and confident. To the extent I was viewed as representative of other women because I was the only woman arguing in a major case (or one of a few in a class or meeting), I set a good example. Most important, I earned the respect and trust of my colleagues and my opponents, and helped others in their lives and careers.

How have you balanced work and life?

My husband and I encouraged each other in our separate careers (he was a computer science professor); we married after graduate school. We had a wonderful personal relationship; similar views, interests and lifestyle preferences; and an efficient and amicable division of household responsibilities. We had no children – and greatly admired friends who were parents. My life changed suddenly when my husband died in 1999, but my professional life continued. I was financially secure, and I became closer to my friends – especially other women living full lives on their own – as I learned to enjoy life without him.


What advice was helpful to you as a law student, or what advice do you wish you had received?

My student moot court advisors were helpful on brief-writing and advocacy skills, and the experience of speaking up in class increased my confidence that I could be a lawyer. There were no organized mentoring programs and little advice on career options, course selection, clinic and research opportunities, job interviews and clerkships. I learned a lot through Yale Law Women, the Law Journal, Yale Legislative Services, and by working for a professor.  The best advice I didn’t get was to seek out faculty and workplace mentors and to ask for information and advice.

What did you think of the “can women have it all?” debate?

What is “it all”? Yale Law students and graduates have more opportunities and choices than most people. So try to identify your goals and priorities, be ambitious but realistic in allocating your time and energy, and be flexible when faced with changes and challenges. Don’t forget the basics – respect and help others, have a personal life whatever your family situation, take care of your health, and get some sleep!

In the next 5-10 years, what developments do you see in the status of women in the legal profession?

Women in the legal profession will continue to speak up, to take leadership roles, and to pursue a variety of personal and professional goals. We also will continue to look beyond our individual concerns and to advocate and support equality, good working conditions, education, childcare, and health for all.  But YLW will still be needed to ask the questions and to push for progress!

What are your hobbies?

Mentoring is one of my favorite hobbies — I enjoy getting to know students and finding out what they’re doing and thinking. I appreciate having friends (not Facebook “friends”) with a variety of backgrounds and interests – some I’ve been close to for many years, and others I’ve met or reconnected with more recently. I’m interested in science and history and enjoy travel and visiting museums, as well as reading. Gardening was formerly a hobby, but I moved to a condo – and don’t miss the weeding!