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New FTC chair addresses Lawyers Club

Edith Ramirez, who took over as chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission earlier this month, told a San Diego audience Thursday that she doesn't plan to make any drastic changes to the consumer protection agency.

The FTC will continue to focus its attention on the healthcare and technology industries, making sure neither sector is engaging in anti-competitive practices, she said.

Ramirez was addressing a Lawyers Club of San Diego luncheon as part of its "Color Me Successful" speaker series.

She also said the agency is very mindful of the privacy concerns of people who use social media networks like Facebook, Google and Twitter.

"Consumers are entitled to know how their personal information is being used, so we want these companies disclosing and being transparent about their sales practices," Ramirez said. "We're just asking companies to comply with the promises that are being made (in their privacy policy)."

Late last summer, the FTC reached a settlement with Facebook in which the social media giant agreed to obtain users' consent before sharing their information beyond established privacy settings, and it agreed to maintain a comprehensive privacy program to protect consumers' information.

A native of San Clemente, Ramirez graduated from Harvard Law School in 1992 and eventually became a partner at the Los Angeles-based law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP.

While at Harvard, she was a schoolmate of Barack Obama and wrote for the Harvard Law Review when Obama was the publication's first African-American president.

In what she terms a "serendipitous" moment, Ramirez was finishing a trial for Quinn Emanuel in Washington, D.C. in 2007 when Obama announced he was running for president of the United States. It was then that Ramirez decided to quit her legal job and help the Obama campaign as a full-time staffer.

"It opened up a whole new universe for me," she said Thursday. "I went from being a partner at a law firm to a campaign that was completely chaotic, where there were very few resources. We oftentimes didn't have a printer that worked on any given day."

Since the campaign's paid staff was so small, they had to rely on a lot of volunteers, and Ramirez said anything remotely related to a Latino issue was referred to her. But she's thankful for the experience.

"My first message is the importance of doing things that might be unconventional, that might be completely different from what you're doing," she said, "(and be) open to doing different things and be willing to take risks."

Ramirez also said it's important to take small steps and do any little bit you can to help the community. She engaged in pro bono projects while a lawyer and served on the board of commissioners for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the nation's largest municipal utility.

Additionally, she said she took the time to teach young students how to be good attorneys because law firms "don't know how to nurture talent."

Ramirez encouraged Lawyers Club members to engage in small ways with students or young associates to help their careers.

She's been a commissioner at the FTC since April 2010.

Ramirez said Obama is very concerned about making sure opportunities exist in his administration for women and minorities.

"I feel that I'm where I'm at because of his commitment to diversity," she said.

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