Cristina Antelo was born in Dallas and graduated from Georgetown University and the George Washington University Law School. Before transitioning to government relations, Cristina worked at major Wall Street investment firms, including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase. She began her lobbying career in 2004 at law firm DLA Piper, then at the Podesta Group, and went on to found Ferox Strategies in 2017.
Sara Agate (SA): How did you know you wanted to move away from the traditional practice of law to become a lobbyist?
Cristina Antelo (CA): I worked at a big law firm right out of law school on the government relations team. The economy tanked in 2008, and it was a tough time to be in a law firm with layoffs and salary cuts.
While I didn’t think I’d lose my job, I realized I enjoyed the lobbying work more than the lawyering. So, after the election that year, I exited the traditional practice of law and decided to do the work I truly enjoyed—lobbying!
SA: How do you transfer the skills learned in the traditional practice of law over to lobbying?
CA: In law school, you learn how to be an advocate. You are a translator between the judge-client-opposing counsel as it relates to the process, jurisdiction, law, and story.
Essentially, the same process applies to be an effective lobbyist. Your client tells you the problem or story, you translate that into a persuasive argument to strategically convince lawmakers to make a change. Where in court, you may only have a judge or a jury, in Congress, there are 535 lawmakers to persuade of your client’s position. This is a fun responsibility because you need to think of which arguments will motivate each member, e.g., jobs in their district, increases in tax revenue, cheaper drug prices—whatever they truly care about that matters in their district needs to be part of your strategy.
SA: What’s one thing you’d want women who engage in the traditional practice of law to know about the world of government and public relations?
CA: Your legal client might benefit from lobbying services, so it might be worth learning about. As women lawyers, we can work together to add value to our clients by having relationships with each other. We can be a referral source for each other without competition. I do the lobbying, meanwhile, you do the lawyering.
I’ll share a story of how this works: The government of Dubai faced a tort claim here in the U.S. The litigation team was dutifully preparing a defense strategy, but our lobbying team thought of a strategy to work with the State Department to support a motion to dismiss based on the premise that the litigation interfered with international relations. We successfully lobbied the State Department to issue a statement of interest on the government’s behalf, and we lobbied Congress to ensure they didn’t come out against it.
SA: As a full-time lobbyist, do you keep an active attorney license?
CA: I passed the California bar and waived into the D.C. bar. I’m not practicing law in California, and because CLEs are such a significant time commitment, I’ve let my license go inactive there, but hope to reactivate it one day. D.C. does not have a CLE requirement, so I’ve kept my license active here.
SA: What is a day in the life of a D.C.-based lobbyist before the COVID-19 pandemic?
CA: Historically, the Hill was a very open place, where people come and go all day long. Now, all of that is gone. Before the pandemic, my daily work life involved lots of personal interaction with members of Congress, client meetings on the Hill (often in the halls of Congress), with other colleagues, cocktail parties, and other events.
SA: What is a day in the life of a D.C.-based lobbyist during the COVID-19 pandemic?
CA: Now, I don’t have the same personal interaction. My workdays are filled with lots of virtual meetings, fundraisers, phone calls, and texting. Some of this new virtual world has opened up accessibility, which is great, but I miss the in-person interactions.
SA: As our world grows into a new normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic, what do you hope to see for the future of the lobbying profession?
CA: January 6, 2021, is having a big impact on Congress and its return to normal. I have many friends who are staffers and worried for their lives that day—they now have a different sense of security at work. I believe the Hill will remain hardened with security for some time to protect members and staffers.
This, along with COVID, leaves a lot open for us to see what’s next. One option I truly like is the virtual congressional meeting because it expands accessibility for more constituents and stakeholders to participate. Before the pandemic, a two to three-day fly-in could cost thousands of dollars for an organization and its members to be in-person on the Hill. And for other folks I work with, like the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, they can welcome more members with disabilities to participate with the use of inclusive technology.
SA: What do you find fun about being a D.C.-based lobbyist?
CA: I love politics! Each day I enjoy reading and listening to three to four hours’ worth of news. Networking is important in lawyering, but even more so in lobbying, and educating is paramount in what I do.
SA: As it relates to the value of time and money, what are some differences between the law firm and lobbying shop?
CA: At the law firm, worth is based on the billable hour. This value proposition does not exist within the lobbying world. The rainmaking of lobbying exists in: 1) policy; 2) procedure; 3) network. You build those three skill sets over time.
At Ferox, traditional marketing and billable hours do not work for us. For instance, my value could be a 10-minute phone call to one lawmaker that saves my client millions of dollars. At a law firm, that would only be 10 minutes’ worth of billable time, which does not appropriately reflect the way lobby shops function over time. My years of experience, reputation, contacts, and insights on strategy are worth more than 10 minutes of a billable hour.
SA: What are some challenges to rainmaking with a lobbying shop?
CA: Thankfully, launching Ferox was well-timed. Democrats took back first the House, and then the White House and Senate, and we are taking advantage of this time of active legislating. I am planning for the future and a potential Republican comeback, so we are building our bipartisan foundation by hiring across the aisle and lobbying on various issues. The pendulum always swings back.
Lots of companies come to town and hire big lobby shop names, and never give smaller shops like Ferox a look, even though we likely provide a better value. It’s happened a few times now that I make a pitch to X company who will hire the big-name lobby shop. Six months later, X company has come back to hire Ferox because we had the expertise they needed to solve their problems. It is empowering when they come back to hire Ferox because it tells me we have the right equation for success. We work hard. Not everyone in town is willing to work as hard. At Ferox, hustle is our strategy!
SA: How did you get your most unexpected client?
CA: Years ago, I was profiled in Latino Magazine’s Power Players article. Some years later, Herbalife Nutrition, faced with attacks by Bill Ackman, hired several lobbyists, including me, because of that mention in Latino Magazine. Herbalife ended up being one of my biggest clients for about two years, which helped pay off my college debt, support newborns, and much more!
SA: How has the world of marketing lobbying services changed over the last three to five years?
CA: There is an industry trend towards cross-selling lobbying with public affairs and communications. Ferox is focused on providing bipartisan government relations services on the Hill and the White House, meanwhile growing our public affairs services, which involve communications. The public affairs and communication services are layered to support government relations.
SA: What, if anything, do you plan to do differently with respect to marketing your services in the future?
CA: While we do some marketing on social media and through newsletters, Ferox typically gets business from referrals and word of mouth. Our marketing content and dissemination are centered around our brand and reputation, which is important to me—smart, savvy, and hard-working.
SA: Do you have a ‘let your reputation speak for itself’ moment?
CA: In 2017, I had a lightbulb moment during a huge client strategy meeting with their board members and executive suite, along with another strategist with decades of experience offering his insight on the matter. When the CEO finally asked us what the strategy should be, I spoke up against the other strategist from across the table. It was like a tennis match of us going back and forth. During those moments, I felt 100% confident about my value at the table, because I knew the policy and client. I convinced the CEO—and ultimately the other strategist as well! I walked away knowing I’m great at what I do, and I’d earned a seat at the table.
SA: What are the top three tips you would give to a lawyer who wants to be a successful rainmaker today?
- Guard your reputation zealously.
- Treat people kindly, because relationships matter. For example, a junior staffer you meet today could end up being the chief of staff tomorrow.
- Stay current with politics and news. If you are not paying attention and the intel you have gets stale, you could miss out on an opportunity.
SA: As we all strive to find moments of hope and positivity, is there a current event or moment that makes you feel proud?
CA: Congress is looking more like America. Today, there are over 140 women in Congress – the most we have ever had! I am proud of Ferox Strategies, a women-owned company, because I get to represent women in all forms – as a woman, Latina, mom, business owner. Women are growing at the table. #MostDiverseCongressEver
About the Author
Sara Agate is assistant legal counsel to the Illinois State Senate Democratic Caucus, with more than a decade of health care and human services policy experience, in the public and private sectors. Contact Sara on Twitter @Sara_Agate.