Whereas some lawyers exclusively represent businesses, individuals or certain government agencies, Zach Ramirez doles out legal advice to the 132 members of the Wisconsin Legislature.
Working for the Wisconsin Legislative Council, Ramirez provides non-partisan advice to lawmakers so they can make informed decisions about the laws they are writing, modifying or eliminating. He’s emerged as the go-to attorney on matters involving energy and public-utilities law.
If Ramirez isn’t preparing memos in response to lawmakers’ inquiries, he’s working on committees and executive sessions, often fielding questions on the fly.
“The key to it is to listen to what they’re interest is and what their concerns are and that’s what you lift up to them,” he said.
State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, for instance, once sought Ramirez’s help with her understanding of the implications of a proposal about cooperatives. Ramirez not only talked with the drafter of the bill; he obtained the drafting notes and even talked with the private-practice attorney who had helped produce a preliminary version of the bill.
“I don’t think I ever had a Leg Council attorney that did that much work on one question,” she said.
Ramirez’s legal advice has proved particularly useful to state Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, the chairperson of the Assembly Committee on Energy and Public Utilities.
“We rely on Zach in order to make informed decisions, and I would say we all feel confident in the information Zach provides us,” he said.
Ramirez worked closely with Kuglitsch this session on legislation dealing with rural broadband access and the replacement of lead pipes. Kuglitsch said he has complete faith in Ramirez. For that, he credited both the extensive knowledge that Ramirez brings to legislative topics of interest and his understanding of how proposed tweaks meant as improvements can go against the original intent of a particular piece of legislation.
“He’s one of the guys I trust that can say, ‘If this is your intent, this is how I would change the language to get to that intent,’” he said. “What does happen if you don’t have that interaction with Leg Council, there are unintended consequences, and you have to go back and clean it up.”
This isn’t Ramirez’s first rodeo in public service. While he was in law school, he worked full time for the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, which provides fiscal information and analysis to lawmakers. The biggest influence on his work has been his wife, who works for the Madison Area Technical College.
“She has the most can-do attitude,” Ramirez said. “As an attorney, it’s my tendency to focus on potential problems and challenges. She focuses on potential opportunities and benefits. I try to bring that to my work.”