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Image of Debra McGuire Mercer featured as a woman of NM

Nov. 22, 2022

Introducing the Women of NM: Transactions

Featuring: Debra McGuire Mercer

Debra focuses on communications regulation and judicial and administrative litigation. She has represented clients in adjudicatory, enforcement, and rulemaking proceedings before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), state public utility commissions, and courts. Debra regularly counsels state government agencies and communications companies, including companies that provide telecommunications, internet, wireless, cable television, satellite, and broadcast services, on compliance with federal and state regulatory requirements. She also advises companies regarding FCC and state commission review of mergers and acquisitions, market entry, the Universal Service Fund, broadband funding, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), real estate agreements involving communications infrastructure, net neutrality, spectrum licensing and leasing, and equipment authorization and labeling of radiofrequency devices.

What inspired you to become an attorney?

Growing up, I did not know any lawyers. Like many members of my family, I pursued a career in business, majoring in finance and international management in college. However, I found that the classes that most interested me focused on business law and corporate responsibility. I especially enjoyed learning about how laws provide structure and certainty to those operating businesses while also protecting consumers and others impacted by those businesses. As a lawyer, I could have a role guiding companies regarding compliance issues and facilitating their ability to meet business objectives.

Why Communications?

I started my legal career as a judicial law clerk at  the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and then joined a government contracts litigation practice group at a large law firm. My next job was in a litigation group at a firm that concentrated on clients subject to FCC regulation. After working with several communications clients, I decided to change my practice area from litigation to communications. I was drawn to communications because it is a technology that is used by almost everyone on a daily basis and is essential for conducting business. I was also attracted to the breadth of the legal work associated with a communications practice. As a regulatory lawyer, I provide clients with guidance about how to comply with federal and state laws, facilitate transactions involving the sale of communications companies or their assets, advocate for changes to regulations, and defend clients against complaints and enforcement actions.

At this point in your career, what are some of your accomplishments?

I have built and maintained relationships with clients by getting to know the employees who are directly impacted by FCC and state utility commission regulations, as well as members of companies’ legal departments. Understanding a company’s business practices and goals has enabled me to develop solutions that are compliant with relevant laws while also being practical.

What key areas of regulation should communications industry members be monitoring?

The FCC is highly focused on privacy issues, the availability of quality broadband service to all households, accessibility of communications services and equipment, and protecting consumers from unwanted intrusions (whether from unlawful robocalls or from scammers). Regarding privacy, in July 2022, the FCC’s Chairwoman sent letters of inquiry to the top 15 mobile service providers requesting information about data retention and data privacy policies and whether subscribers’ geolocation information is shared with law enforcement or other third parties. Companies that offer communications services or sell communications devices, as well as companies that collect consumer data or initiate calls or other communications to consumers can be impacted by FCC regulations. Therefore, it is important that all companies – not only those that consider themselves to be communications industry members – be aware of the FCC’s regulations and policies.

What’s one piece of advice that has impacted how you practice law?

Several years ago, while working on a white-collar criminal case, the lead attorney stressed the importance of preparation to everyone on the case. Whether we were getting ready for a discovery hearing, a meeting with the Department of Justice or the client, or a phone call, it was essential that we were prepared. Hearings require extensive preparation, including research, an outline of points, and practicing an argument. Phone and video calls also present opportunities to guide the client, demonstrate the strength of your client’s position to an opposing party, or to cooperate with co-counsel. Taking a few moments to set goals for all interactions related to your representation of a client enables you to confidently move the matter forward.