Careers in National Security Law: A Tale of Two Attorneys

DOJ Attorneys Richard Scott '05 and Colleen Garcia '13 Share Career Advice with Columbia Law School Students Interested in the Justice Department's National Security Division

New York, October 27, 2015Two national security lawyers working for the  U.S. Department of Justice shared career advice and stories with students when they returned to Columbia Law School as alumni. The event was organized by the School’s Social Justice Initiatives, which provides career services and programming for students and interested in public interest, government, and legal volunteer work.

“I took my national security law seminar in this room,” recalled Richard Scott ’05, now the Deputy Chief of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division (NSD), where he focuses on investigating and prosecuting counterintelligence matters, including espionage and economic epsionage. He took that seminar back in 2004, two years before the Justice Department created the NSD to combat terrorism and other threats to national security.

Richard Scott '05, top, and Colleen Garcia '13, both lawyers with the Justice Department's National Security Division, returned
to the Law School to share career advice with students.
“Things have changed dramatically,” Scott said. “In recent years we've added a cyber aspect to what we do—most of the state-sponsored cyber intrusion cases are housed in our section. We have big investigations going on and a few charged cases. It's obviously a growing area. We're running out of office space, but we're adding attorneys.”
Yet Scott, who has worked at the Department of Justice (DOJ) for nearly seven years, followed a somewhat similar path to the NSD as Colleen Garcia ’13. Garcia is currently an honors attorney in the division’s Office of Law and Policy, which oversees the development of legislation and other policies in the area of national security. They were both summer associates at law firms before clerking for judges and logging time as entry-level lawyers.
Garcia had an internship at NSD in her first summer in law school and an externship at a U.S. Attorney’s Office in her third year; she also served as the articles editor at the Columbia Law Review. But she said her most valuable experience was working as a clerk in the Supreme Court of Texas, where she was allowed to participate in judicial conferences. “We wrote cert memos and had to defend them,” she said. “You learn oral advocacy and presentation skills, and how to keep your composure.” These skills proved valuable in the NSD’s Office of Law and Policy, where Garcia’s had to collaborate with multiple agencies inside the Obama administration and to articulate the Justice Department’s position.
“The interagency process can be frustrating because you have to allow for other voices, and people can have different perspectives -- but that's why we do it,” she said. “I was very humbled to be involved in very high-level discussions very early on. I was in the same room with the President four months into my job.”
“Clerking was a great first job after law school,” seconded Scott, who worked for a federal judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “It helps you to understand what judges are thinking about going back into the chambers after an argument, and what makes a good brief. It was extremely helpful to see the process and to do a lot of writing.”
After completing his clerkship, Scott went to work as an associate in the Washington, D.C., firm of Williams & Connolly. “Law firms are great places to learn to litigate and to pay off your loans, but I was concerned that I would never leave,” he said. “You have to be cautious if you want to do public service. The time can get away from you quickly. I stayed for almost three years before joining the National Security Division.”
The NSD “wanted someone who could write and put a case together,” said Scott, who spent five years as a line attorney before becoming a supervisor in his section, overseeing a staff of 20-25 lawyers. “We have two honors attorneys, one of whom is going to a U.S. Attorney's office for six months to get a little courtroom time, which for us is a typical move when people start.” Garcia, in fact, said she will soon be logging time at a U.S. Attorney’s Office.
While his section selects candidates who “know how to litigate,” Scott said he looks for intelligence and interest in the subject matter. “We like people who feel comfortable on their feet and are strong writers, who can absorb things quickly, and who are prepared to litigate,” he said. “Some of our cases are against big, well-funded law firms. When you work in the government, you don't have a lot of assistants. It can be a slog. We like people who know what they're doing. But as far as subject-matter expertise, my view—and the view of other people who do the hiring in my section—is you can learn the subject matter. I don't expect you to be an expert on the Espionage Act of 1917.”
Scott was surprised to discover his resume came to the attention of his NSD colleagues because he had listed an unpublished note he wrote on a national security topic for the Law Review. “It wasn’t published, but it showed I was interested in the subject,” he said. “I was transitioning from the private sector to government, and I wanted to work in the National Security Division. They appreciated that.”