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New York, March 3, 2011—Andrew J. Shapiro ’94, the assistant secretary of state for Political-Military Affairs, returned to the Law School recently to reflect on the experiences that led to his current position, and the calculated risks he took along the way.
Shapiro detailed the circuitous path he pursued after graduating from law school, to make the point that seemingly unconventional choices can lead to extremely rewarding results.
“I took a lot of tactical risks in my career,” Shapiro noted. “Each of these experiences helped me grow, and I knew that things would work out in the end, and opportunities would come along.”
Shapiro, who works closely with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, said the role of the bureau is to “ensure the country’s military priorities are aligned with its foreign policy priorities.” The bureau provides policy direction in the areas of international security, security assistance, military operations, defense strategy and plans, and defense trade.
After graduating from the Law School and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Shapiro began his legal career in Washington as an associate at Covington & Burling. He then took a sabbatical to work on the Clinton-Gore reelection campaign in 1996. “We’re taught to think of our careers as linear, but they don’t have to be,” he said, adding that he gave up his salary and slept on a friend’s couch for several weeks during the campaign. In 2000, after a stint at the Justice Department, he joined Al Gore’s presidential campaign.
When the 2000 election became mired in the recount of voter ballots in Florida, Shapiro’s legal background was an asset. He volunteered to follow a moving truck full of contested voter ballots up to Tallahassee, where he joined the legal team arguing in court that the voting machines used in Florida were flawed.
Shapiro’s work on the Gore campaign brought him to the attention of then-Sen. Clinton, who asked him to join her staff as senior defense and foreign policy adviser. He held that position for eight years. When Clinton became Secretary of State, she invited Shapiro to join her transition team, and appointed him to his current post.
Shapiro offered advice and answered students’ questions about pursuing careers in public service. He explained that working in private practice, earning an additional international affairs degree, and serving in clerkships can all be helpful. However, Shapiro emphasized there is no set path or predetermined formula for securing a public service job.
“There’s no right background to have for these jobs,” he said. “What a political appointee can bring is relationships. They draw on those prior relationships to solve problems before they become mired in political molasses.”
The event was hosted by the Law School’s Center on Global Governance, under the direction of Michael Doyle, Harold Brown Professor of International Affairs, Law, and Political Science, and Richard Gardner, Professor of Law and International Organization, as part of the center’s spring speaker series.
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