On Sunday, the Associated Press published a background piece on Bob Bauer, the White House counsel:

White House counsel Bob Bauer, President Barack Obama’s point man in the search for a new Supreme Court justice, manages to get credit both for an even temperament and his finesse with a sledge hammer.

Now Bauer, 58, is plying his mix of legal reasoning and tough-guy determination from a West Wing corner office. The White House counsel is leading the search for a Supreme Court nominee and planning how to steer that choice safely through the shoals of Senate confirmation.

It’s a job that requires not just legal smarts but equal parts political and media savvy as well.

I don’t mean to criticize Nancy Benac, the author of the article, for that last line. She’s just trying to convey information to her readers in a clear and concise manner. She’s not trying to make a deeper philosophical point to her readers about the divisions between law, politics, and public relations.

But it’s a deeper philosophical point worth exploring. Bob Bauer is a lawyer by trade. A lawyer who represents politicians almost exclusively — who else needs the help of an election-law specialist? — but primarily a lawyer nonetheless, rather than a politician or a public relations consultant.

The line between those titles, though, is a lot thinner than many people assume:

For decades, Bauer has been the go-to lawyer for Democrats looking for advice on campaign matters and ethics questions. Past clients have included the Democratic National Committee, the campaign committees for House and Senate Democrats, congressional Democrats during Bill Clinton’s impeachment saga, and a freshman senator named Barack Obama.

"We used to joke that we had Bob Bauer on speed dial," says former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, who relied on Bauer’s advice during the impeachment drama and used him as his personal lawyer for 15 years.

Bauer wasn’t on speed dial because Daschle needed a lot of briefs or legal memos. He was on speed dial because of his judgment.

The primary difference between Bauer — and most other lawyers on speed dial in the corridors of power — and someone like David Axelrod is the intended audience of their work.

Axelrod tells a client how the public, the press and the other politicians will probably react to a given decision, and suggests strategies for making the reaction positive.

Bauer tells a client the same for courts and enforcement agencies.

It thus might seem, superficially, that Bauer has taken on a new role, but the truth is, a great lawyer is already by definition a great politician and a great public relations consultant.