When the White House Calls: Remus Tapped as Senior Ethics Counsel

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This article originally appeared in the Spring-Summer 2016 issue of Carolina Law.

It’s not every day that a UNC School of Law faculty member gets a call from White House Counsel Neil Eggleston, but that’s exactly what happened one day in August when Dana Remus’ phone rang.

Eggleston invited Remus to interview for the position of senior ethics counsel. Because of the timing, she was hesitant but agreed to an interview.

Remus, who joined the Carolina Law faculty in 2013 and has taught courses on property law, professional responsibility and judicial clerkship writing, received the call just five days before she was headed to Cornell Law School as a visiting professor. Torn between the excitement of working in the White House and the desire to make a change in the lives of the Cornell students, Remus was able to compromise. Eggleston held the position at the White House for her through the fall, and Cornell allowed her to teach a condensed version of her professional responsibility course.

Now at the White House, Remus leads the ethics and compliance team. She, along with six additional lawyers, advises White House staff on all aspects of government ethics and compliance. Several areas fall under this umbrella, including conflicts of interest, political activity by administration officials, records management — which includes transfer of records to the National Archives — and public/private partnerships.

“Everyone gets involved with public/private partnerships — from initiatives to lower the cost of diapers for low-income families to efforts to make broadband accessible to all communities,” Remus says. “It’s an exciting time to help this administration achieve its goals.”

Remus’ areas of expertise are legal and judicial ethics. At Carolina Law, her research focused on government lawyering and the intersection of law and policy, so she had some idea of what to expect. She also benefited from the advice she received from colleague William Marshall, William Rand Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law. Marshall served as deputy White House counsel and deputy assistant to the president during the Clinton administration.
According to Remus, her days are unpredictable. There are some days she barely makes it to her desk. She meets with her ethics team on Tuesdays, with Eggleston on Thursdays, and the full White House counsel team on Fridays. “My days are spent thinking through problems at a quick pace surrounded by smart people,” Remus says.

One aspect of Remus’ job that is constantly on her mind is making sure she and her team have a good relationship with all of their clients. Remus says, “It is important for clients to think of us as people they want to call at the beginning of a project. We figure out how to get to yes whenever we can and say no only when we have to.”

Remus, whose appointment began in November, will remain at the White House until the end of the administration before returning to Carolina Law. Her goal is to make sure the final year of the president’s administration is productive but without any ethical slip-ups.

“This administration is so committed to the highest ethical standards. I get a wave of inspiration coming to work every day,” Remus says.

Although she’s enjoying her time in Washington, Remus has missed her close connections with colleagues and students. She says she is looking forward to returning to UNC with a renewed energy and a commitment to serve students.

“There are few resources for students to learn about lawyering in government. I’m excited to return now that I have seen government lawyering from the inside,” Remus says. “I have new courses and seminars I want to propose and new areas of research to pursue which will ultimately inform my teaching.”

-May 5, 2016

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