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December 2017

National security law in private practice is fulfilling, important work, panelists say

The path to a career in national security law in private practice often is anything but straight, according to panelists at the 27th Annual Review of the Field of National Security Law, held in November in Washington, D.C. The word “meandering” came up again and again as the five panelists described their career paths and various jobs they had in government before entering private practice. The five panelists were:

  • Moderator Caroline Krass, a partner and chair of the national security practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, has worked at the State Department, Treasury Department, Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice, National Security Council and is a former general counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency.

  • Robert Kimmitt, senior international counsel at WilmerHale, formerly served as U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Treasury under President George W. Bush and as U.S. Ambassador to Germany (1991-93)

  • Amy Jeffress, now a partner at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, served as counselor to the Attorney General for National Security and International Matters at the Department of Justice. Before that, she was assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia and chief of the National Security Section.

  • Don Vieira, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, is a former chief of staff of the National Security Division at the Department of Justice.

  • Ingrid Price, an associate at Covington & Burling, clerked for Chief Judge James E. Baker of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. 

“I have definitely meandered in my career, both in government and the private sector,” Kimmitt said. “I’m basically always trying to look for any national security element in every job I’ve done.”

Vieira said he looked for jobs on the USAJOBS website after law school and found one in the counter espionage section of the criminal justice section at DOJ.  “It just sounded cool. I applied, thinking … I’ll never get a call but it’s fun to at least dream. And I did get a call. … To my great surprise, I got the job.”

The demand for national security lawyers has intensified within and outside government, and is among the most demanding in the legal arena. The complexity of issues often challenges the abilities of any practitioner, and the range of situations calling for legal analysis is unpredictable, fluid and often comes with urgency.

National security law is a mixture of Constitutional law, military law and the law of war, international relations, privacy concerns and cyberlaw. Many in the field are drawn to the opportunity to serve their country by navigating legal challenges to protect both the country and the civil rights and liberties of its people.

The federal government offers a wealth of opportunities in national security throughout the executive branch (including at the White House, the Department of Justice and within assorted federal agencies), and on Capitol Hill. Well-known agencies that deal with national security issues include the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency, but there are also lawyers working on national security issues in other agencies, such as the Department of Energy and the Department of the Treasury. Almost all federal executive branch agencies also hire in-house counsel, some of whom engage with national security issues.

The National Security Division of DOJ investigates and prosecutes threats to national security, including terrorism, and supports the national security units within various U.S. Attorneys’ offices throughout the country. Lawyers on Capitol Hill may work for congressional committees and subcommittees involved with national security issues, such as Armed Services, Intelligence or Foreign Relations.

Seeing the big picture from the government’s perspective provides a good background for anyone interested in national security law in private practice, the panelists agreed. Finding a mentor or advocate is also a good idea for anyone interested in the field. To listen to more advice from the panelists, including suggestions for helpful law school courses, view video of the program here.

The 27th Annual Review of National Security Law was sponsored by the Standing Committee on Law and National Security.

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