September 15, 2016
Adam Neufeld was set on being a doctor until a pre-law class in his junior year of college piqued his interest in law and policy. He had always seen himself doing mission driven work and so, following a year working on public health research, set out for HLS with public interest work in mind. While Adam did take on internships and jobs that had him engaging in public interest litigation, he decided that his real passion was not in the courtroom.
“After my first year at law school I started thinking law wasn’t really for me,” Neufeld recalls. “I liked the complexity of legal issues, but I realized that I like rolling up my sleeves more than I expected.” He sees his involvement in extracurricular activities as defining his experience at HLS. Among other activities, he set up a qualitative and quantitative study in his last two years aimed at comparing the experiences of men and women at HLS. Undertaking this large study helped Adam realize that he enjoyed managing large projects and thrived in more socially driven roles.
After graduating Adam tested his reservations about being a lawyer by working as an attorney for the Department of Labor. Despite enjoying the people he worked with and the issues he worked on, he found the work to be too solitary, and transitioned to a less lawyerly position at the Federal Election Commission. He worked as counsel to the Chairman, which still involved legal matters but also included agency management. When his boss’ appointment ended, he decided to drop law altogether and went to McKinsey & Company, a management consulting company. Following a few years in this position consulting to government and nonprofits, he came back to the federal government, working with the Office of Management and Budget on government-wide management and budgeting.
“After the 2012 Election I went to work for an agency I had never thought I would work at,” Adam says about his jump to the General Services Administration. “The new Administrator asked me to be the Chief of Staff, and I was excited about the possibility to work in a behind-the-scenes but critical agency that is involved in all parts of government operations.” Handling the “back office” functions of the Federal Government, the GSA oversees all federal real estate, sets up the help agencies’ contracts for goods and services totaling about 50 billion dollars a year, and assists with technology modernization. He now serves as Deputy Administrator, the second highest official at an agency of over eleven thousand employees. He describes the scale of the federal government and its concomitant complexity as what attracted him to this type of work. He speaks passionately about the work he’s done to increase efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery to citizens, while simultaneously shrinking administrative costs by tens of million dollars. “We’ve been able to innovate and meet a lot of the emerging needs of agencies, from modernizing their workspace to attracting leading-edge coders to helping them with statistical evaluations of their programs.”
“I haven’t worked on a case in a decade so at times it feels like I shouldn’t have gone to law school,” Adam says. “However, law school was a huge period of growth for me, and positioned me well for where I am now.” He is also quick to acknowledge that law school is seen as a great credential for a growing scope of careers. “Having options isn’t the challenge – choosing a good option is.” He suggests students find out what makes them tick as a person, come up with a hypothesis surrounding what they want to do, and then test those hypotheses through different internships, classes and jobs. “It is hard to predict whether you’ll actually like a particular job, so getting as much information as possible and testing a position in a low-cost way can help increase the chances of a good match.”