FBI special agent back to law practice

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morrissey

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FBI special agent back to law practice

Post by morrissey » Sun Jun 07, 2020 9:56 pm

Does anyone have any insight on a transition from FBI special agent back to practicing law? Is it realistic to move from agent to attorney within the FBI or USAO/DOJ/big fed? How about into private practice (other than going solo or very small firms)?

For reference, I have about 4 years of legal experience as a state prosecutor.

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Re: FBI special agent back to law practice

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Jun 07, 2020 11:56 pm

So I'm at a USAO. While I think I know of a couple of people that have gone from law school to being an agent, I haven't really seen anyone do the transition you're suggesting. And while I think my office would potentially be interested in someone who went FBI --> law school, I think going law school --> FBI and then applying for attorney positions again would raise serious questions about why you stopped being an attorney and why you now want to stop being an agent.

The other issue, I think, is that the application/training requirements are significant enough, the FBI would be hesitant to hire someone as an agent if they thought they were only going to do it for a few years and then go back to law. (Not that everyone necessarily stays for years, but they don't want to invest in short-timers, so it's not a career path they anticipate.)

As for becoming an attorney for the FBI after being an agent, keep in mind that a lot of FBI attorneys are more like in-house attorneys but for the agency - they handle contracts, personnel matters, etc., which aren't that related to being a prosecutor or an agent. There are also policy/legislative types, where prosecution/agent experience might be more useful. But FBI attorneys don't try cases with agents - that's what USAOs are for (you probably know that, but just wanted to mention it in case not). There are certainly attorneys in DOJ who work with the FBI, again at a more macro level than just trying cases (policy/legislation stuff), but again, I think going law school --> agent --> law might look weird compared to agent --> law (that may seem unfair, and of course I could be wrong, but I've just never heard of anyone doing that).

WRT private practice, I'd be really surprised if prosecutor --> agent --> netted you a biglaw job of any kind, in part due to the firm hierarchy thing. Once you got any experience as an agent you'd be too senior to be hired as an associate, and I don't think that experience would set you up to be a partner. But if someone with more experience with biglaw knows otherwise, they should definitely chime in because I'm mostly speculating.

gingerbread

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Re: FBI special agent back to law practice

Post by gingerbread » Mon Jun 08, 2020 10:27 am

For private practice, there is an interesting intersection between white collar investigations and national security issues, including surveillance, law enforcement compliance/litigation, cybersecurity, data privacy, and CFIUS. Depending on the type of work you'd be doing as an agent, that could be a good fit for you, especially with your prosecution experience. My former biglaw firm hired some high-level FBI attorneys into this practice group as partners. There were several former FBI agents working as cybersecurity associates too, but they were all at the FBI before law school.

Breaking into biglaw from a non-attorney position seems almost impossible, but there might be boutique or mid-sized firms that would be more receptive if you can bring substantive cybersecurity or data privacy experience to the table.

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Ohiobumpkin

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Re: FBI special agent back to law practice

Post by Ohiobumpkin » Mon Jun 08, 2020 12:50 pm

I generally agree with the other responses. If you became an attorney with the FBI, that could teach you translatable skills in the private practice of law. If you became a special agent, however, I am not sure most firms would be interested in hiring you. Also, I get the impression that the individuals who go the special agent route tend to be most of their careers with FBI or at least other federal law enforcement (e.g., DEA, ATF, etc.)

So, if you want to be an attorney, apply to attorney positions. If you want to be a special agent, then do not count on being able to easily go back to practicing law.

andythefir

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Re: FBI special agent back to law practice

Post by andythefir » Mon Jun 08, 2020 4:14 pm

If you can pass the FBI agent background you’d be crazy to want to practice law. 3 letter agencies are all on the GS scale, where USAOs are not. Some USAOs pay very well, but I know multiple AUSAs who took pay cuts coming from state prosecutor offices. Also, FBI agent experience sets you up for consulting and security gigs way more lucrative than biglaw for way fewer hours.

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ninthcircuitattorney

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Re: FBI special agent back to law practice

Post by ninthcircuitattorney » Wed Jun 10, 2020 8:56 pm

In the N.D.Ill., at least 2 people went FBI -> AUSA. Both did extremely well. Weisman is a magistrate and Brian LNU was head of criminal prosecutions. The real question should be, why would you want to be at biglaw?

Sackboy

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Re: FBI special agent back to law practice

Post by Sackboy » Wed Jun 10, 2020 10:18 pm

andythefir wrote:
Mon Jun 08, 2020 4:14 pm
If you can pass the FBI agent background you’d be crazy to want to practice law. 3 letter agencies are all on the GS scale, where USAOs are not. Some USAOs pay very well, but I know multiple AUSAs who took pay cuts coming from state prosecutor offices. Also, FBI agent experience sets you up for consulting and security gigs way more lucrative than biglaw for way fewer hours.
This is a very optimistic view. FBI special agents start at like $60k. More often than not you're not going to be able to exit into a lucrative consulting or security gig.

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Re: FBI special agent back to law practice

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Jun 10, 2020 11:11 pm

I think it's extremely uncommon for state prosecutors to make more than AUSAs. That's true for a few state jurisdictions (I think often unionized) that have especially good pay, and maybe for the occasional USAO in a really low COL area (although local prosecutors in really low COL areas don't usually make much). Experienced county prosecutors in my area start around $45k and max out around $80k, which is what I made after about 4 years' practice experience as an AUSA, and the AUSA cap is much higher.

Re: consulting gigs, I don't know enough about that to comment (I suspect this depends a lot on where you were stationed/what you did as an agent), but as to "why practice law if you can be an agent because agents are on the GS scale," that doesn't make a lot of sense to me. First, being an agent and practicing law are not at all the same, so if you want to do one, the other isn't going to do it for you. Second, agents start at GS 10 and AUSAs start higher than that (because of course AUSAs have to pay for law school and agents don't). I'm sure there are agents who make more than I do, but I don't think it's a vast difference.

Also, though this can cut both ways, there's an expectation of a shorter work life as an agent than as a lawyer. Agents are eligible for full retirement after 20 years, and are required to retire at 57 (the max age to enter the FBI is 37). I think this is actually a bonus because they're eligible for the same full retirement benefits that lawyers have to work quite a bit longer to get, and most agents are young enough when they retire that they do go on to other kinds of work. I think security and consulting are probably common, but how lucrative those are going to be is going to depend on where you worked and how high you rose. I would imagine that someone who rose high in the ranks to work on agency policy etc in DC is going to be in a very different situation than someone who was a line agent (for lack of a better term) in South Dakota for 20 years.

TheProsecutor

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Re: FBI special agent back to law practice

Post by TheProsecutor » Thu Jun 11, 2020 12:11 pm

obviously not common, but there's at least one very successful data point:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Freeh

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GreenJay

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Re: FBI special agent back to law practice

Post by GreenJay » Fri Jun 12, 2020 11:27 am

You should consider reaching out to this person: https://www.gravesgarrett.com/member/nathan-f-garrett/

His career path is very similar to what you are seeking.

nixy

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Re: FBI special agent back to law practice

Post by nixy » Fri Jun 12, 2020 11:35 am

The examples provided are all really interesting, but they're also people who were FBI agents 20 years ago or more. It would be interesting to know if they see it as a viable career path these days.

texanslimjim

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Re: FBI special agent back to law practice

Post by texanslimjim » Fri Jun 12, 2020 3:53 pm

Look at getting an LLM. By no means required, but could be very helpful. Especially as a signal that you are Very Serious about being a lawyer again - such signals can matter a lot.

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