Administrative Law

Anyone representing a client that interacts with the government, federal, state, or local, is likely to need to be familiar with administrative law. While broad public policies are set out in statutes, the actual implementation and application of these statutes is handled by administrative agencies. Administration is applied government: It is where public policy actually intersects with the lives of individuals, firms, and other organizations.


Most business firms, state and local governments, and non-profit organizations as well as many individuals deal with agencies and therefore need good legal counsel to help them. Unsurprisingly, many law firms devote a substantial amount of their practice to agency work, representing clients before not only federal bodies, such as the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or the Securities and Exchange Commission, but also before myriad state and local bodies, such as Workers’ Compensation Boards, Occupational Licensing Agencies, and Zoning Boards of Appeals and Planning Commissions.


There is also a broad swathe of public-interest litigation that takes place largely before agencies: Anyone seeking to help a client avoid deportation, challenge a state’s definition of benefits funded by Medicaid, or enjoin the siting of incinerators in low-income neighborhoods will spend a substantial amount of time before administrative decision-makers, such as immigration judges, the federal Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Practitioners before agencies also draft both proposed rules and comments responding to agencies’ proposed rules. Those comments evaluate and criticize the empirical bases, logical reasoning, and legal grounds for agencies’ legal and policy positions, requiring a mastery of essentially legislative and policy-making skills – for instance, the ability to assess data, familiarity with the theory and practice of measuring and comparing costs and benefits of rival policies, and the ability creatively to construe an agency’s statutory mandate.


To be effective in representing clients dealing with agencies, a lawyer needs to be familiar with the basics of administrative procedure, interpretation of the statutes defining an agency’s mission, and the development of facts in an administrative setting. The required first-year course in Legislation and the Regulatory State provides a basic grounding in the enactment, interpretation, and implementation of statutes by legislatures, courts, and administration agencies.


Students interested in administrative law can, based on their substantive interests in practicing in a particular area, choose from a wide range of substantive courses in fields in which administrative agencies are an active presence, and in which different modes of administrative agency action are used to shape law and policy (e.g., Labor Law and Immigration for agency adjudication; Environmental Law for agency rulemaking). Students may wish to encounter state as well as federal administrative agencies in their coursework.