Capital Ideas

As the major satellite TV and Internet provider in the United States and owner and leaser of nine satellites, Dish Network deals with Washington, DC often.

R. Stanton Dodge has been in the company’s legal department for his entire career, and he has learned a thing or two about dealing with—and easing deals with—the government.

Modern Counsel: You’ve said, “You can’t be an effective GC without thinking about DC.” Is that because Dish Network, as a satellite provider, is subject to so much government oversight?

R. Stanton Dodge: It is especially true for Dish, given that we’re a satellite television company. We rely on Federal Communications Commission licenses to make our entire business work—it just goes with the territory. We also work under the Communications Act, which comes with all sorts of FCC governing laws, and the Copyright Act, which impacts our distribution of content in many ways. The Means and Commerce Judiciary Committee can have a big impact on our business, as well. What happens in Washington continues to be very important, strategically, for our business, especially as we expand into wireless.

That said, it’s true on some level for every general counsel that you have to keep DC in mind. What happens in Washington will matter to just about any business, sooner or later. It’s important to have good relationships in Washington for when that time comes. It’s especially important for any company’s general counsel to have a good relationship with his/her local members of Congress. I could not be an effective general counsel and adviser to the business if I didn’t keep DC in mind.

MC: How do you work with Washington, DC, in your current role?

RSD: I spend about a quarter of my time on DC, give or take. At this point, not a lot of that time is your traditional, shoe-leather kind of lobbying—that’s a very small percentage of what we do. I spent a lot of time early on building a great and capable team in the Washington office. All of the folks there have really blossomed and matured to become senior government affairs folks. I spend most of my time giving them strategic direction and reviewing their work before it’s finalized.

MC: What were you looking for in the attorneys you interviewed for the Washington team?

RSD: Positive attitude and high energy. As unexpected things happen-—and they will—I wanted people who would be excited to jump in the boat and start rowing as hard as they could. I looked for people who are very intelligent and passionate about what they’re doing. Fortunately, we have all of that in the folks there.

MC: What kind of mind-set does a lawyer need to have to work effectively in this setting?

RSD: The most important thing is to have the mind-set of an educator. The folks who we interact with in Washington are tackling some difficult issues, and they have a very difficult job to do. Our goal should be to help educate them, sometimes on very complex issues. We have to educate in a clear, concise way—not make extra work for them.

MC: What are the most challenging aspects of working with government organizations?

RSD: That ties back into our role as educators. The biggest challenge is dealing with folks who are very, very busy. They’re typically spread very thin. They have a lot of pressures on their time. The challenge is doing the best you can to make complicated issues simple or to make your position as simple and easy to understand as possible. One of my favorite sayings is: it’s really easy to make things complicated, but it’s very hard to make things simple. We have to make it easy for the people we talk to to understand where we’re coming from when we present an issue. And that’s really hard.

MC: Are there advantages to working with governmental organizations?

RSD: It’s great that we live and work in a democratic society where everyone’s voice can be heard. That’s one of the great advantages of our system. I encourage everyone to participate in the process. It’s an open process. That’s all you can ask for and hope for, that people will listen to what you have to say.

MC: What do you wish you had known about working in government when you took on this role?

RSD: It takes a long time to build relationships. All politics is local. You should take the time to get to know your local folks. Take the time to get to know other key folks because, ultimately, it’s all about relationships, just like all aspects of your life. The time to start is now.