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Administrative Law Primer

Administrative Law generally refers to the body of procedural law governing the operation of regulatory agencies in the executive branch of government. The federal government and each of the states have their own separate bodies of administrative law. Constitutional law principles, such as due process and separation of powers, also affect state and federal administrative laws.
 
There are two main facets of administrative law that are relevant to practicing attorneys. The first is “regulatory law,” which comprises the procedures that govern the promulgation of administrative regulations by agencies, including the general scope of permissible regulations, procedures for adopting regulations, requirements for obtaining public comment, etc. The second facet is “administrative adjudications.” Some administrative agencies have “quasi-judicial” authority to adjudicate certain types of disputes between parties within the scope of the agency’s regulatory authority. Often these are disputes between the government and a private party, but some cases involve disputes between private parties. In the case of the federal government, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) governs the procedures applicable to these types of administrative proceedings.
 
Administrative law, then, is not really a practice area in and of itself but is an adjunct to practice in topical areas that are regulated by the federal government, e.g., banking, telecommunications, energy and natural resources, aviation, labor and employment, securities, public utilities, and environmental. Geographically, law firms that practice before federal administrative agencies can be found throughout the country, but there is a particularly heavy concentration in Washington, D.C. and vicinity because most federal agencies are headquartered there.
 
Small law firms that practice before federal agencies, e.g., by representing clients in administrative adjudications or in rulemaking proceedings, usually specialize in one or two regulated areas. As with small law firms, larger firms practice before federal agencies, e.g., by representing clients in administrative adjudications or in rulemaking proceedings, but in more areas than do small firms. Attorneys also practice in federal agencies themselves. Businesses that are heavily regulated by the federal government, e.g., natural resources, telecommunications, aerospace, banking and financial services, etc., may need in-house counsel.
 
Typical Tasks Performed by Attorneys Practicing Administrative Law
  • Representing clients before federal and state agencies.
  • Representing clients in claims against the federal government.
  • Advising clients on the application of regulations in various areas, e.g., banking, telecommunications, energy and natural resources, aviation, labor and employment, securities, public utilities, and environmental.
  • Advising clients on the availability of benefits from administrative agencies, such as workers’ compensation, social security, and housing.
  • Handling challenges to administrative agencies decisions and regulations.
  • Representing clients in Freedom of Information Act cases and Sunshine Act cases.
  • Representing clients in OSHA-related litigation.

For more information on the practice of Administrative Law, see the American Bar Association Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice or the Administrative Law sections of state bar associations.