Jonathan Kilman is the Co-Chair of Foley & Lardner’s Florida Public Affairs Practice. The interview was conducted by Patrick Slevin of SL7 Consulting on March 22, 2017.
SL7: First let me begin by saying congratulations! You and your public affairs team recently graced the cover of Influence Magazine for the featured story, Lobbying Avengers. Foley & Lardner has been making headlines with your recent high-profile hires. So let me begin by asking, Foley & Lardner has been lobbying for some time, so why do you believe now the firm is suddenly making a big splash on the lobbying scene? What do you attribute to the increasing attention to the firm’s success?
Kilman: First, thank you for the compliment; we’re excited about our growth and we expect 2017 to be a big year. The timing for Foley & Lardner’s surge couldn’t be any better. The lobbying business in Florida has evolved dramatically since I’ve started; firms have merged and grown substantially in size, and some might say the market is saturated.
While the crowded market makes competition fierce, that same competitive market places a premium on talent and those willing to work harder and smarter. Our practices’ recent hires are therefore the result of a constant focus and priority, which is talent.
We’ve identified some very talented people (Jesse Panuccio, Jon Steverson, Jason Allison and Herschel Vinyard) who were ready to transition to the private sector and each was a good fit. Jesse's recent departure to a senior role at the DOJ is a testament the fact that he’s an All Star.
SL7: Every quarter Tallahassee Beltway insiders follow the gross revenues amassed by the Top 10 lobbying firms. Is it important to you that Foley & Lardner is ranked in the Top 10 lobbying firms in Florida? Is it a true indicator representing the success of a lobbying firm?
Kilman: Of course, revenue matters. But we don't pay much attention to how our lobbying revenue compares to other firms.
As a lobbying practice within a law firm, we generate significant revenue in ways unavailable to a lobbying boutique. It's a different business model that gives our clients an integrated offering of government relations and legal services, which has been very successful for us. Using lobbying revenue reporting is a short-sighted benchmark that doesn’t make much sense in measuring our firm’s success.
SL7: You have a law degree from Harvard Law School, but to your credit, you’re one of the least pretentious lawyers/lobbyists in the public affairs space. Was that something you had to work on or does it come from something deeper in your character? Explain a bit about how your education both formally and informally has empowered you as a leader of a growing legal-lobbying firm in Florida?
Kilman: Again, thank you for the kind words. I’m proud to be a graduate of Harvard Law School. If anything, the degree reflects the same competitive nature that helps drive success in the political process, but that’s about as far as I go. The humility I have is due to the knowledge that like everyone else, I've been kicked in the tail more than once inside the Capitol and yesterday's wins do not mean I get to work any less for future victories.
Another Ivy League law graduate, who also works in the Tallahassee political environment jokingly asked me, "How did we end up choosing careers in a town where our degrees don't give us any competitive advantage?" That was about 10 years ago. I still haven't figured out the answer.
I have, however, learned a lot by working alongside incredibly smart, hard-working professionals over the years. Nothing replaces practical experience, which elevates your strategic thinking and tactics. As a practice leader and a lobbyist, those skill sets, coupled with a reputation of integrity, are much more valuable than a degree.
SL7: Everyone knows that successful people have experienced failure in their lives. So I would ask you to share your thoughts about failure and share any experiences that have made you a better lawyer, lobbyist and possibly human being?
Kilman: I would agree that success and failure have a symbiotic relationship, and it’s an evolving process that challenges us to grow throughout our personal and professional journeys. It wasn’t until my mid-30's that I was willing to admit my weaknesses and failures. As I've learned to embrace my flaws and not be ashamed of them, my friendships and professional relationships have become stronger. I have no regrets because of the wisdom I’ve gained since that acceptance.
SL7: What can we expect to see from Foley & Lardner over the next few years?
Kilman: People are going to get tired of us winning. Sad!
SL7: When you’re not working for clients, what do you do to recharge your batteries? What hobbies, social activities, pet projects, worship, charities etc., do you undertake when not working in Tallahassee?
Kilman: I have 5 kids, with ages ranging from 20 months to 14 years old. That doesn't leave a lot of time for things like golf, and I am perfectly OK with that. My wife and I love to travel, and whenever the opportunity arises we do it. If it's near water, I'll always look to kayak.
This year, we kayaked in Alaska; before that around the San Juan Islands off Washington State. I also love to read, mostly nonfiction, and listen to live music. In 2017, I’ve already seen a musical festival and a couple of concerts with more on the way.
Two charities I love are St Jude and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and most years I'll do something for one or the other.
SL7: What would you advise someone, either a college student or older professional looking to change careers to lobbying as a profession?
Kilman: This question comes up a lot, and I am happy to give advice to young people interested in lobbying. I may write an article on the topic soon, but there is no one single path to success as a lobbyist. The character trait that matters most is grit. Luck can certainly play a role but I don't know any great lobbyist who has succeeded for long on luck alone.
SL7: Jonathan, thank you for sharing a bit of yourself for the SL7 Interviews series.
Kilman: Thanks, Patrick. I appreciate you thinking of me for the interview.
To read more about Jonathan Kilman in the Lobbying Avengers featured in Influence Magazine: Click HERE.
To learn more about Jonathan Kilman, click link to his BIO.
Share this interview on your social media.
Patrick Slevin is founder and CEO of SL7 Consulting. A Tallahassee based, global public relations and stakeholder engagement practice serving clients seeking to educate stakeholders on the benefits of change in a status quo world spanning corporate, public affairs, issues management, crisis, zoning & development, political, and workforce communications. Go to www.PatrickSlevin.com