Get to Know a Government Lawyer: The Hon. Gar Chisenhall, Administrative Law Judge

How long have you been a government lawyer?

The Hon. Gar Chisenhall, Administrative Law Judge
The Hon. Gar Chisenhall, Administrative Law Judge

I have been an Administrative Law Judge with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings since August 3, 2015.


How did you choose administrative law as your area of practice?

It would be more accurate to say that Administrative Law chose me.


In the winter/spring of 2002, my clerkship at the First District Court of Appeal was coming to an end, and I was looking for my next job. I had some prior experience with law firms, but that experience was not particularly good, and I was not quite ready to give that route another try.


As things turned out, I had a contact working in the General Counsel’s Office at the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) who needed help with the Agency’s appeals. Because I had already accumulated a substantial amount of appellate experience, I thought that handling appellate litigation at AHCA would be a relatively easy transition.


With having the benefit of nearly 20 years of hindsight, I can say that it was one of the best things that ever happened to me from a career perspective. I was given a full caseload right from the start and given a lot of freedom to use my best judgment in how to litigate the cases. However, I was very fortunate to have several experienced coworkers who were very generous with their time if I had any questions.


While my time at AHCA was initially divided between handling administrative appeals and Medicaid overpayment cases, I eventually transitioned into spending all of my time handling administrative appeals. Over the following years, I developed a niche practice in administrative appeals that eventually led to me landing my dream job at DOAH.


What is your advice for a young government lawyer?

If you do not want to spend your entire career as an assistant general counsel, you absolutely have to get comfortable with networking. Doing a great job is always helpful for advancement, but it seems to be a universal truth that people like to hire people they know.


Also, a lot of jobs are not advertised. Therefore, I cannot recommend strongly enough that ALL young attorneys start building their networks as soon as possible by: (a) joining and taking an active role in organizations such as the Government Lawyer and Administrative Law sections; (b) speaking at continuing legal education seminars; (c) writing articles for the Florida Bar Journal and Section publications; and (d) getting to know the people who are doing the sort of work you want to do. Also, if you have a long-term goal of achieving a particular position (or doing anything for that matter) within a certain number of years, it is absolutely essential that you figure out what you need to do on a short-term (and even on a daily) basis to make that long-term goal a reality.


Is there anything else you'd like to share with young lawyers?

NEVER STOP LEARNING!


Sometimes it seems like many lawyers stop studying the law immediately after they learn that they passed the bar exam. However, you don’t learn everything about practicing law in law school, and you definitely don’t retain everything you learned in law school. As a result, it is essential that you continue to study areas that you were introduced to in law school such as the rules of evidence and the rules of civil procedure.


Also, the law is constantly changing, and it is also essential that you stay up-to-date on any changes that impact your practice area. A great and very inexpensive way to accomplish both of those tasks is through membership in a Section. For example, the Administrative Law Section recently held the second annual DOAH Trial Academy during which approximately 35 young attorneys spent an intensive week learning litigation techniques from a faculty of experienced attorneys and ALJs. In addition, the Administrative Law Section publishes a quarterly newsletter that notifies its membership of any developments that could impact their practices.

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