Lorena Ahumada Was Never Promised a Rose Garden
But that was just what she got as a staffer in the Clinton White House
Published in 2008 Pennsylvania Rising Stars magazine
on November 25, 2008
Updated on April 18, 2009
Lorena Ahumada doesn’t intimidate easily. Just when she’s around Hillary Clinton.
“I don’t think I ever uttered a proper sentence to her,” she says. “I was always so nervous.”
The Clintons can do that to you.
Ahumada’s involvement with Hillary and Bill, and Al and Tipper, started with the New Hampshire primary. It ended in the White House. She can hardly believe it all happened.
“My peers all tended to have very recognizable last names or notable pedigrees,” she says. “I was a kid from a New Hampshire state college who got really, really lucky.”
It was more that she made her own luck.
A naturalized U.S. citizen who arrived from Chile in 1979, Ahumada, an associate at Kleinbard Bell & Brecker in Philadelphia, interned with the state Democratic Party after graduating from the University of New Hampshire. She quickly became director of Hispanic outreach for Hillsborough County in Tampa, Fla. Folks at the national level took notice.
“My last semester in the spring of 1995 I interned in the Office of Presidential Personnel in the White House,” she says.
She loved it. The action. The energy. Even the long hours. “We worked non-stop but it was wonderful,” she says.
After graduation, she interned with the state Democratic Party and worked on the New Hampshire primary. She soon became a full-time paid staffer on the campaign. “I worked briefly on the Massachusetts primary and, afterwards, [at] campaign headquarters in D.C. [with] the political department of the campaign. For the general election in August 1996, I went to work in Florida to help with Hispanic outreach in Tampa. After the election, I returned to D.C., and was lucky enough to [be appointed to] a job at the White House as the confidential assistant to the director of environment in the Office of Science and Technology Policy.”
She worked there until 1998, then took a job in the Department of Health & Human Services as a legislative liaison. She noticed something similar about the policy leaders around her: “They all had law degrees,” she says. “While most of them were not practicing law. I knew if I wanted to advance in my career, I would need to get a J.D.”
She entered George Washington University Law School. And plans changed.
“I hadn’t intended on practicing law after law school, but life seems to take us down unplanned paths,” she says.
She was wooed out of law school by a firm from Philadelphia and it was bye-bye Beltway.
Today, at Kleinbard Bell & Brecker, she practices in the litigation department, concentrating on complex commercial litigation, employment litigation and counseling, and insurance coverage law. She finds the energy level and intellectual challenge similar to politics. “Kleinbard is a small firm that does sophisticated work,” she says, “and there is a great entrepreneurial drive here that I enjoy being a part of.”
She’s found a home in Philly. Still, there are days in Pennsylvania when she misses 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“There was a lovely flower shop I visited almost weekly,” she says. “I also made it a point to walk by the Rose Garden every chance I got. It sounds corny but those were always ‘pinch me’ moments.”