Milbank’s Litigation Group boasts several impressive public sector resumés, including partners with experience at the U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO). Recently, Katherine Goldstein, former Chief of the Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), joined partners Antonia Apps and special counsel Adam Fee (both former Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the SDNY’s Criminal Division) to discuss how to build a legal career that includes government service.
When did you first become interested in working for the USAO?
Adam Fee: My dad was a journalist who covered the New York courts, so I was familiar with this type of work from an early age. A friend likes to remind me that on the first day we met in law school, I said, ‘I’m Adam, and I want to be a federal prosecutor.’ I definitely had an idea of where I wanted to end up.
Antonia Apps: I grew up outside the US, and attended Harvard Law School. I didn’t set my sights on becoming a federal prosecutor until after I joined a law firm and started working closely with some government alumni, who inspired me with their stories about their government careers.
Katie Goldstein: I concluded in law school that I wanted to pursue criminal law because it seemed to have the most impact on people’s lives. As you begin to learn more as a law student and as a clerk, you hear a lot about the interesting and impactful work done by federal prosecutors—so I quickly decided to set my sights on that goal.
You all took different paths to the USAO—what were some of the most important steps you took early on?
Adam: I was deliberate in trying to work with people who had been there. I ended up clerking for two judges with that experience, and later at a law firm that had former Assistants. For me, that made all the difference.
Antonia: My path was a bit longer because I had to become a US citizen in order to be a federal prosecutor, and it took some time to achieve that critical step. I submitted my application to the USAO immediately after becoming a citizen!
Katie: Like Adam, I did a clerkship and then chose a firm where I thought I’d be mentored by former Assistant US Attorneys. Three partners at my first firm had this experience; they had these long, rewarding careers in public service that they viewed as being professional highlights. They took me under their wing and I worked with them almost exclusively.
It sounds like relationships are key once you’ve set your sights on public service.
Katie: Yes, and people with experience can also give you a window into what being a prosecutor is all about, both functionally as a job, and also what that job means. You can really only get that sense from talking to those who’ve served. When you do that, if it resonates and appeals to you, then you’re inspired to follow in their footsteps—and they’re uniquely positioned to help you, both by exposing you to the type of work that prepares you to be a prosecutor, and by supporting your application.
Are there certain personality types that do best in the federal prosecutor’s office?
Adam: There is sometimes a misperception among law students that that there are only certain personality types who would do well as prosecutors. There are clichés that if you’re argumentative, or loud, or some sort of alpha man or woman, that means you should be in a courtroom. That’s untrue of most people in the USAO—in fact, those are not qualities that by themselves would make you good at the job.
Antonia: The problem is that focusing on personality types fosters a stereotypical point of view, which is inimical to diversity. And diversity is a tremendously important asset in every institution, particularly in the prosecutor’s office.
Katie: Yes, I think the USAO, as well as other government agencies, thrives on having many types of people, and actively looks for that. I really think that a passion to have the job is a prerequisite, and then there are many personality types within that to be successful. But the key qualities are judgment, integrity, and maturity—without those attributes, you don’t get in the door.
Antonia and Katie, you were on hiring committees at the USAO. What did you look for when evaluating applicants?
Antonia: The USAO is an office with a tradition of integrity, of doing the right thing, of having judgment, and obviously hard work—these are all critical for the long-term relationship between federal prosecutors and the bench. If you really care about that culture and that mission, you look for people with those qualities. To do that, you consult with alumni who understand how important those attributes are to the office, and who can recommend candidates based on their own personal experience.
Katie: Sometimes you can get at these intangibles through interview questions, and sometimes this comes from well-written recommendation letters from people like judges, partners or other colleagues who have worked in the government and in the trenches with the candidate. People on hiring committees know they can give these recommendations a certain amount of weight and credibility, particularly since alumni know what they are looking for.
What types of classes and experience do you advise would-be public servants to pursue in school and early in their careers?
Katie: Definitely take Evidence and Federal Courts. Also Advanced Criminal Procedure— ideally from Antonia, who teaches it at Harvard! Accounting can be very useful, too. Clinics on both the prosecution and defense sides can offer valuable perspective; I did a clinic in a public defender’s office that was very helpful.
Adam: Not only will clinics be among the more fun things you’ll do in law school, they’ll motivate you to keep pursuing your path.
Finally, after leaving the USAO, why did you choose Milbank?
Katie: A calling to public service is something that I was looking for in a firm, and I think all three of us would say that we actively support that here. Our chairman, a litigator, is also a former public servant, as is the head of our Litigation Group, as well as many others. I was excited to have the opportunity to carry on this tradition by mentoring the next generation. At the USAO, mentoring is institutionalized, both formally and informally—and when you’ve grown up, as we have, in that culture, you see its value.
Antonia: Yes, coming from the USAO I really valued collegiality, the concepts of doing the right thing, integrity, and partners having each other’s backs. I looked for a firm that would mirror those qualities. I felt that Milbank had those qualities, in no small part because it emanates from the firm’s leadership, which sets the right tone and culture for all its lawyers.
Adam: I also appreciate that Milbank has an understanding that a legal career is not a one-stop proposition. We have people coming out of, and going into, public service. The experiences you get at one place only serve to benefit you at the next.
This is a sponsored blog post from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP. You can view Milbank's Vault profile here.
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