Media Law Resource Center

Serving the Media Law Community Since 1980


10 Questions to a Media Lawyer: Ashley Kissinger

Ashley I. Kissinger is Of Counsel at Ballard Spahr in Denver and Boulder.

1. How'd you get into media law? What was your first job?

I stumbled across a job ad in the early days of the internet. Well, actually, my boyfriend did. It was 1998. We were in Austin, Texas, planning a move together to Washington, D.C. He was researching job openings – he was a lawyer, too – and he came across an ad for an associate placed by a little eight-lawyer firm then known as Levine Pierson Sullivan & Koch. The ad was on "www.emplawyer.net." (I kid you not!) Constitutional law was my passion in law school so I applied. I was thrilled I got the job, and I've spent my entire career here. (Through transitions to Levine Sullivan & Koch, then to Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, then to Ballard Spahr. In Washington through 2006 and in Colorado since.)

2. What do you like most about your job? What do you like least?

What I like most is that I get to work in one of the most interesting areas of law 100 percent of the time. The facts are fun, the law is fun, my client is usually wearing the white hat, we usually win, and when we do the outcome is for the public good.

What I like least is the unpredictability and the overall workload that comes with being a lawyer. We work too much at night, on weekends, and during our vacations, and I have never gotten comfortable with the roller coaster ride aspect of it.

3. What's the biggest blunder you've committed on the job?

My biggest blunder (that I have not successfully repressed) occurred when I was filing an out-of-state petition for discovery in California state court. Anyone who practices in California courts knows there are a bazillion rules and statutes that can be implicated anytime you so much as breathe. I was dealing with a GI issue that was ... shall we say ... acute, a newborn with the flu, and a tight deadline that had me working through the night after days of little sleep. Through the fog, I failed to file a procedurally required yet completely superfluous (thanks, California) document, and the judge did not let me off the hook.

A good follow up question for these 10 Questions would be this: "What did you learn from this blunder?" My answer: Don't be a hero. Raise the white flag and seek help when you get into a bind. That's far better than making a mistake.

4. Highest court you've argued in or most high-profile case?

I argued a cool case in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that has become, in a way, high profile of late. In Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516 (4th Cir. 2003), the court held that a group of sheriff's deputies who bought up all of my client's newspapers on the eve of an election acted under color of law, and violated the paper's First Amendment rights, even though they used their own money, were off duty, and were in plain clothes.

The court's holding – that an official's motivation is important to the state action question – is now being cited in cases around the country in which courts hold that government officials who block people from their official social media feeds based on the content of their commentary are violating the First Amendment.

5. What's a surprising object in your office?

I have a speaker's name card with my name in both English and Arabic. I keep it to remind me of one of the most challenging and rewarding periods in my career. Over five years in the mid-2000s, I spoke many times in the Arabic peninsula about American media law and the international law of freedom of expression. Take advantage of any opportunities like this that come your way. You will not regret it.

6. What's the first website you check in the morning?

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! "Check a website"? That is so cute. At the age of 50, with an eight-year-old, a four-year-old, a working spouse, a career as a litigator, and a desire to spend a couple of seconds with my family each day, I do not find myself "checking websites" in the morning. I do get that daily briefing from The New York Times delivered to my inbox, though, which I love. When I read it.

7. It's almost a cliché for lawyers to tell those contemplating law school: "Don't go." What do you think?

See "what I like least" in #2 above. Don't underestimate the impact that this career choice will have on your personal life, particularly if you want to have kids. But if you can accept that trade-off, and the law is interesting to you, do it. You will never be bored, every day will be different, and there are enough different paths to take over the course of your career that you can find engaging and fulfilling work for the rest of your life.

8. One piece of advice for someone looking to get into media law?

Try to get a fellowship or internship with a media company or media law nonprofit. You'll get great exposure to the law and will meet lawyers who practice in this area.

9. What issue keeps you up at night?

Nothing. (See answer to #6 – I have no trouble going to sleep at night.) OK, OK. There is no particular subject that keeps me up more than others, just the general sense of foreboding that comes with this job: Have I considered all of the strategic options that could advance the ball forward for my client? What horrible thing is my opponent cooking up next? Is there anything important in my inbox that has been pushed down so far by the daily onslaught of email that I have forgotten about it?

10. What would you have done if you hadn't been a lawyer?

One of these: Rock n' roll star (if dreams could come true), hairdresser, exotic pet vet, diplomat.

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