The NCSL Blog


By Julie Lays

Nashville—No one said working in a legislature would be easy. But the more prepared you are for what’s ahead, the easier it will be to get up to speed and keep from feeling overwhelmed.

What I wish I knew sessionIn the “What I Wish I Knew When I Started in the Legislature” session on the legislative staff track of the Legislative Summit, a group of wise, passionate and very funny veteran legislative staff panelists—Wendy Jackson, Wisconsin Legislature; Scott Kaiser, Illinois General Assembly; Sabrina Lewellen, Arkansas Legislature; Julie Pelegrin, Colorado General Assembly; Eric Weeks, Utah Legislature; and Eric Glover, Idaho Legislature—shared their wisdom, lessons learned and mistakes made. They told us their best and most challenging moments working in the legislature and how they learned to survive after their first session.

Key takeaways from this session:

  • Always respect the institution.
  • When you make a mistake, own it as soon as you discover it. Unlike fine wine, an undisclosed error doesn’t improve with age.
  • Take care of yourself. The sooner you learn to manage stressful and demanding session days, the better. 
  • Protect your reputation of being nonpartisan. Remember, members are watching.
  • Have fun, laugh at yourself, enjoy it.
  • Be direct. Nip problems in the bud.
  • Manage up. Try to respond to and reframe concerns, not react to them.
  • Be careful what you put your name on, use the name of your office instead.
  • Try to interpret what members mean, not what they say.
  • Build your reputation by being confident and competent.
  • In dealing with difficult leaders, let them know you aren’t after their job.
  • And finally, you can’t go to every reception, so don’t.

Julie Lays is the editor of State Legislatures magazine.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.