June 05, 2018

Yes, You Need to Know Science: Attorney Advises Department of Forensic Science

Member Profile: Amy M. Curtis, Department Counsel, Virginia Department of Forensic Science

Amy Curtis has been counsel for the Virginia Department of Forensic Science (DFS) for three years. DFS provides forensic laboratory services for the Commonwealth's criminal justice system. As in-house counsel, she advises the department’s management on non-litigation issues and acts as a liaison with the courts, the Office of the Attorney General, attorneys, and law enforcement.

What is the one decision that you made that changed the course of your career?
My decision to apply for the Department Counsel position with DFS after having litigated for almost 20 years. For the first few days, I sat at my new desk and thought, "What on earth have I done?" I was particularly overwhelmed once I realized the amount of scientific knowledge that I would need to perform my job duties effectively. Somewhere, my high school chemistry teacher is still laughing. In retrospect, the challenge was just what I needed at that time in my career. You have to keep growing and learning as an attorney to avoid burning out.

What is the best part about your job?
The best part for me is the breadth of matters that I handle. In any given week, I may be helping a forensic sci entist with a court issue, advising on an HR matter, reviewing a contract for procurement, drafting a regulation or a new department policy, responding to a FOIA request or subpoena duces tecum, speaking at a conference for user agencies, or providing training to DFS staff. The variety keeps me engaged and interested.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received career-wise and why?
As a young lawyer in private practice, the senior partner constantly reminded me that it mattered how I treated all of the people I encountered in my practice - not just clients, other lawyers, and judges - because you never knew who might assist you in the future. His advice proved prophetic in a number of situations during my career. Some of the examiners that I work with now are the same examiners who were witnesses in cases that I handled as a prosecutor. The professional courtesy and respect that I showed them then has formed the basis of our good working relationships at DFS.

One thing you do to relax?
Four years ago, I went back to horseback riding, a hobby I had as a child. Then I decided to buy an off-the-track thoroughbred jumper (which some may point to as my mid-life crisis). The time I spend in the ring, counting the strides to a jump, is the best part of my week. And I figure that if I can handle a 1200 lb. thoroughbred at his worst, I can handle virtually anything.