McGeorge School of Law

Profile: Lance Olsen

Lance Olson
Lance Olsen

Class of 1977

Founder and Senior Partner, Olson Hagel & Fishburn LLP

Lance H. Olson, '77, one of the state's early practitioners of political law, fell into the field by happenstance. While attending McGeorge School of Law at night, he worked for a firm that monitored the activities of state government for corporations.

One of his jobs was to track the Fair Political Practices Commission, newly created in 1974. During law school, Olson and his McGeorge study partner, Lloyd Connelly, had a side business, running political campaigns and providing campaign treasury services to candidates.

Right after graduation, Olson and Connelly opened their own firm in Sacramento. The firm offered a variety of practice areas, including divorce law, personal injury law, wills, criminal law and political law. Olson changed the firm's direction in 1982 when Connelly left after winning a seat in the Assembly, focusing on political law. Olson's firm has changed names over the years. He is now senior partner of Olson Hagel & Fishburn LLP.

"I get a great deal of satisfaction out of helping people get out of political problems or keeping people out of legal and political problems that they might otherwise end up in if they didn't have our counsel," he says. "Quite frankly, some of my best work goes unnoticed. If I'm doing my job, then you don't read about it in the newspaper."

Olson's firm is known for being aligned with the California Democratic Party. Although he has mostly phased out his work for the state party, he still advises the party's caucuses and is campaign counsel to the president pro-tem of the Senate. The firm specializes in election law, political law, campaign finance law, political litigation and appeals, government and administrative law, ethics law and public retirement law. It also has a small Social Security disability benefits practice. Most of the state's private and public sector labor unions count among the firm's clients.

Today, Olson's work mostly is focused on labor unions and the ballot measures and political action committees they support. He and his colleagues work on every aspect of the complex ballot measure process, from concept development of statewide and local initiatives to getting them on the ballot. Olson has drafted some significant ballot propositions that have changed the way the Legislature governs and how statewide elections are conducted. They include Proposition 25, the 2010 ballot measure that allowed the Legislature to adopt a budget by simple majority vote, rather than two-thirds. The measure was prompted by the gridlock that would grip a divided Legislature and draw out the budget process weeks - and sometimes months - after its deadline.

In addition to practicing law, Olson taught election law at McGeorge as an adjunct professor from 1995 to 2003. He's served in government, including on Sacramento County's Parks and Recreation Commission and Civil Service Commission, and is a co-founder of the California Political Attorneys Association. He also trains newly elected Assembly members and existing legislators in both houses on ethics.

Olson says his firm lies on the "progressive-liberal side of the political spectrum." He is committed, he says, to advancing the work of the labor movement and social justice.

"I think people tend to think of the labor movement as a special interest," Olson says. "I don't. I think of the labor movement as a group of working men and women who collectively decide to pool small amounts of money ... together to bring better laws to our state and to our country."