I recently had the pleasure of getting to know Jillian Bliss – a staff attorney with the General Land Office. I’ll let her describe her work in our latest Pink Granite interview below, but she’s the real deal you guys! I’m so excited to share that she is also joining Pink Granite as a contributor – so expect to see more from her as the site evolves.
Where do you work, what is your title and what does your job actually entail?
JB: I work as a staff attorney at the Texas General Land Office. The office manages a number of programs and subject matter areas of importance to Texans, from the Veteran’s Land Board, to disaster relief efforts, and my favorite — the restoration, preservation, and daily maintenance of the Alamo. My job is about 75% contract law, 25% legal research and writing, and a whole lot of history. On that note, the views and opinions expressed herein and in any subsequent Pink Granite posts are mine alone, and are not reflective of the Texas General Land Office, the Alamo, or Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, nor can my comments and viewpoints be attributed to his offices or campaign.
How long have you been performing this work?
JB: Grateful to say I’ve been in this role for an entire year now.
Where are you from?
JB: New Braunfels by way of Dallas. I’ve spent an equal portion of my life in both cities, and have memories and experiences from both I cherish equally. I guess landing in Austin as a young adult was the perfect compromise between the two — big city amenities and hill country scenery!
What did you study in college and where did you attend school?
JB: I graduated from the University of Texas (hookem!) with a degree in journalism, and got my law degree at the SMU Dedman School of Law.
Political party affiliation?
JB: My full time job is nonpartisan and focused on Texans, Texas, and its heritage in every way. Personally, I’m a registered Republican, but I can name a number of issues and races where I regularly vote Libertarian.
How did you get your start in government/policy?
JB: As a college journalist, I covered local, city, and statewide politics, and often found myself sitting in council chambers til long hours of the evening. I found myself in the newsroom until even later hours, downing coffee and cold pizza over the clamor of my colleagues while clacking keys on my keyboard churning out next-day stories on who would become the district’s next state representative, county’s next sheriff, or state’s next senator. I’d follow the issues these people sought to conquer and wonder what it would be like to work on these issues myself. After several people told me my journalism skills were easily transferable to a legal career, I wanted to put those skills to use in public service much like the people I wrote about.
When did you know you wanted to work at the Capitol?
JB: I had the opportunity to serve as a law clerk for Governor Abbott’s Office of General Counsel the summer following my 1L year of law school. Despite covering politics, before this role, I’d actually never been inside the Capitol. I think I knew I wanted to work here when I realized I couldn’t stop smiling during the orientation Powerpoint.
What do you find to be essential skill sets/personality traits for being a good staffer? What about for a good lobbyist?
JB: Be ready to pitch in at any point in time, on any project (as long as it’s ethical!), no matter how minor, even if it’s not listed in your job description. Be positive. Be ready to learn. Understand and be excited about the fact that everyone on your team is there for a reason, and when you work together, you can get a lot of good done. If you’re willing to listen to others, they’ll be more willing to listen to you.
I’m a young woman and I want to work at the Capitol. What do I do now? How do I get started?
JB: Don’t pass up a good opportunity when it comes your way, even if it may not be your first choice at a job. Once you have your foot in the door, hard work and authenticism will go a long way. If you’re not sure which area of government you’d like to work in, use internships to try a few things out. If you make a good impression, not only will these roles help you determine the ultimate right place to be, but the friends you make along the way can also turn into great professional connections.
Do you mind sharing a little bit about your relationship working with other women (or supportive men) at the Capitol, how you learn from one another or share in successes as a team?
JB: My favorite movie is Mean Girls and I think it says a lot about women generally. I think all women, unfortunately, are sometimes tempted to pass judgment on a female colleague because she is younger, skinnier, holds more a prominent role, has 5 degrees, speaks 5 languages, you name it. There is no reason for this. Girls who work together get a lot of good done, and I’m lucky to be in a role now which allows me to work with a lot of positive, professional, smart, capable, confident women who are all so understanding of each other and a joy to work around. I’d encourage women to embrace each others’ differences and consider how those differences contribute to accomplishing the greater good. As Cady Heron said, “Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter. And ruining Regina George’s life definitely didn’t make me any happier.” Rather than passing judgment on other women, go out of your way to get to know someone in your professional circle you might otherwise feel standoffish towards, and you’ll probably find you have a lot more in common than you think.
You could never do your job without __________.
JB: Coffee. I will drink it hot, cold, iced, luke warm, cream, no cream, Starbucks, Folger’s, whatever. I just require at least four cups a day or I actually get headaches.
Best professional advice you’ve ever received?
JB: “Focus on your own horse.” I’ve been an equestrian my whole life, and I had a trainer tell me this in college. I use it now as a reminder that everyone is in their own place in their career, their personal life, etc., and no good really comes from overly critical comparison of yourself to another. Rather, when you lose focus on where you are because you’re so intensely focused on the success of others, that’s when you become most vulnerable to a slip up.
Advice you wish you could give your younger self?
JB: SAVE YOUR MONEY, GIRL!
Any leadership programs, mentorship opportunities or organizations you’d recommend someone getting started in politics join/or investigate?
JB: As a 2L in law school, I participated in the RNC’s Republican Leadership Initiative. I had never been a campaign staffer before, but knew I wanted to be involved in the 2016 election cycle. RLI equipped me with the tools and knowledge and networks needed to do so. I lost my fear of block walks and cold calls. If you’re considering a campaign, a 6-week program like this can be a big help. In 2018, I also participated in TPPF’s Capitol Leader’s program, and really enjoyed the blend of modern day topics, originalism theory, economics, and opportunities for friendship and networking this program provided.
Best tip(s) for staying on top of your to-do list/staying organized?
JB: Color code EVERYTHING! I use a planner with at least five different colored pens to keep on top of life and work and hobbies and commitments.
Best tip(s) for networking?
JB: Be yourself! Some envision “networking” as being able to sell your skill sets, which isn’t all wrong, but if you go into a cocktail party or conference and only speak to others for the express purpose of describing how good you are at a certain profession, it can be a real turnoff. It’s best to treat networking situations the same as making friends. Make a good first impression, connect with others for who they are and anything you have in common (do you both have dogs? do you both like baseball? do you both hate running?), and don’t worry about discussing your job or career path unless someone else brings it up first. This formula can also smooth out potentially contentious or political environments, as you find ways to even reach others “across the aisle” when you find common ground first.
You can have dinner with anyone, living or dead – who and why?
JB: Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis, or Buck, as he was known to his friends. A former journalist and young lawyer with vocal opinions, he never backed down from his beliefs, even when they led to his death at the Alamo. I’ve looked up to him most of my life, and ironically that led us to similar career paths. I accepted my current staff attorney role at the same age he took command of the Alamo!
What’s always in your bag during session?
JB: A protein bar, business cards, planner, color coded pens, and a notebook.
Favorite place for a business lunch?
JB: Caroline on Congress.
Favorite place to get your news?
JB: Quorum Report definitely during session, and I have a lot of former colleagues whose work I like to follow at the Texas Tribune. I watch a little bit of Fox, a little bit of CNN.
Favorite political TV show/movie?
JB: Veep! If you’ve ever worked in politics at all, you know this show is absolutely the most accurate. And most hilarious. And JLD is so brilliant, beautiful, and witty.
Favorite book for career advice.
JB: Dana Perino’s, And the Good News Is… Dana has inspired me even before law school, and I barely missed the chance to meet her at the Bush Library in 2014! Still, she is so relatable on tv and on paper. Her book speaks to young women with ambition from all walks of life and includes all kinds of good advice.
If you weren’t in your current role you’d definitely be a ____________.
JB: I was involved in the Actual Innocence Clinic at both UT and SMU, a project allowing students to actively work on the appeals of wrongfully incarcerated individuals seeking exoneration. Two of our clients from the SMU clinic have since been released from prison, and one achieved actual innocence status last year. These roles were extremely fulfilling, and at some point I’d love to be involved in criminal justice reform or at least criminal appeals again.
I have four horses, so I could also definitely be a horse trainer, lol.
Thanks so much to Jillian for taking the time to add her perspective to Pink Granite’s interview file! I love featuring the work of those whose work is so different than mine on the website, I always learn so much and hope that you do as well. And again, check back in soon for new content courtesy of Jillian – I’m so grateful she’s willing to put her journalism experience to work on behalf of growing Pink Granite.
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