Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – Washington, D.C.

In the spring of 2009, Nick Smyth ’09 spent a semester interning on the Congressional Oversight Panel in Washington, D.C. as part of Harvard Law School’s Semester in Washington program. Since graduating from HLS, he has traveled an unorthodox path and navigated to his dream job working in financial reform. He began this journey in 2009 as a member first of the Office of Consumer Protection at the United States Department of the Treasury and now at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Based on Nick’s interest in behavioral economics and the implications for financial regulation, Nick was encouraged to explore opportunities with Michael Barr, Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions at the Treasury Department. Nick learned that Barr might be looking for junior staff and reached out to his professional and personal networks to forward his cover letter and resume to Barr’s office in the hope of securing an interview. Nick credits this persistence as well as luck for how he got his name and credentials recognized. Although he was two weeks away from taking the bar exam when he got the call for the interview, Nick devoted his full effort to preparing for the meeting. He met with Peggy Twohig, Director of the Office of Consumer Protection, Eric Stein, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Consumer Protection, and Barr, and although they were ultimately unable to offer him a position, they were interested in offering him an internship if he was able to volunteer. The office could only offer Nick the internship if he was a student, so Nick enrolled in John Hopkins’ Masters in Government program and took night classes which enabled him to intern for the Office of Consumer Protection. In September 2009, he joined a small team of five and worked extensively on what would become Title X of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He was thrilled to have the opportunity and by December 2009, the office was able to offer him a formal position.

Nick has experienced a unique moment to be working in financial reform and he is incredibly grateful for these opportunities. On July 21, 2010, President Barack Obama ’91 signed the Dodd-Frank Act into law and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) became a reality. Since September 2009, Nick has watched his small Treasury team of five grow to 40, then 175, and eventually it will expand to a staff of over 1,000 individuals. The team has also morphed from being based in Treasury to being a nearly independent agency.

Having experienced the mutual benefits of internships first hand, Nick believes it is important to make procuring interns a priority. Since graduating, Nick has stayed in touch with HLS and has a close relationship with the Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising and it was in the fall of 2010 that second year student, Mary Catherine Blanton ’12, met with OPIA to discuss possibilities for her Winter Term experience. She expressed her desire to spend Winter Term in Washington, DC working on financial oversight issues. OPIA suggested that Mary Catherine reach out to Nick.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regularly employs interns throughout the year and after applying for a position, Mary Cartherine worked with Nick to design her own experience for the shorter Winter Term. During the three weeks she spent in Washington, Mary Catherine had the opportunity to delve into the Dodd-Frank Act, and this experience confirmed her interest in government service. She was particularly impressed by the quality of the people she worked with and their dedication to the agency’s mission.

The most valuable thing that Mary Catherine learned from Nick was from his willingness to assist her. She notes, “HLS alumni are everywhere and many are doing really exciting work. Nick is a great example as he is truly working at the forefront of financial reform in Washington.”

Just as Nick learned the benefits of persistence and dedication in securing his initial internship and permanent position, Mary Catherine has learned the benefits of reaching out to alumni and encourages HLS students to take advantage of the opportunity to learn from the unique career experiences and often groundbreaking work of Harvard Law School graduates.