Law Enforcement as a Career
by Anayat Durrani
Connolly said if a student is interested in a career in law enforcement, he/she should first decide exactly what he/she wants to do. If there is an interest in uniformed police work, then applying to local and state police agencies is the best course to follow. However, he said if there is a preference for investigative work, then one might consider federal agencies like the FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshal's Service, and (DHS) Customs. He said there are also state agencies that have investigators.
"I've used my law degree in several ways," said Connolly. "I initially became a local prosecutor in Howard County, Maryland. I then became an FBI Special Agent, where my responsibilities generally involved long-term criminal enterprise/terrorism investigations that included electronic monitoring and undercover operations, techniques that included lengthy affidavits and proposals—all of which had to deal with numerous legal issues."
He also served as a Legal Advisor in several FBI offices and at FBI headquarters, where he advised FBI officials and field offices on electronic surveillance issues. He taught legal issues—including hostage negotiation, crisis intervention, and crisis management—to other FBI agents and law enforcement personnel. He served two years on Capitol Hill representing the FBI in the areas of terrorism, organized crime, drugs, and white-collar crime. His last assignment in the FBI, before retiring in 2003, was as the Coordinator of FBI San Diego's Joint Terrorism Task Force, where as a result of 9/11, major changes were being made to national security law.
Peter R. Wubbenhorst, J.D., joined the FBI after three years' active duty as a Navy JAG trial attorney. "When I expressed to friends that I was interested in the FBI, I distinctly recall them saying, 'Why would you do that? You have a law degree.' The stereotype was that an FBI [agent] was an investigator and my legal background would not be helpful," said Wubbenhorst.
But Wubbenhorst proved that assumption wrong. During his 22-year FBI career, he combined his legal and investigative interests and worked as an FBI agent early in his career and mid-career and performed traditional legal work later in his career.
"I started out as a 'street agent,' working crimes on military bases in Northern Virginia," explained Wubbenhorst. "From there, I was sent to the General Counsel's Office at FBI HQ to be a litigation attorney. After that, I was assigned to the Public Corruption Squad at the Washington Field Office, where my squad investigated and arrested Mayor Marion Barry—one of the most publicized cases in the FBI's history. After that, I became the Chief Counsel for all FBI activities in Central Florida, where I was involved on a daily basis with all operational aspects of the FBI's work."
Wubbenhorst said there are many traditional lawyer jobs available in most federal law enforcement agencies. However, he found the combination of FBI agent/attorney best suited to his interests.
"I would get bored quickly just doing desk work; yet I wanted to utilize my legal training effectively. I think I accomplished that," said Wubbenhorst, who retired from the FBI three years ago and now works as a full-time faculty member, teaching Criminal Justice at Saint Leo University in Florida, where he's also a pre-law advisor.
Where Connolly and Wubbenhorst entered a career in law enforcement after law school, Joseph Richard Gutheinz, Jr., became a lawyer in the last few years of his law enforcement career. "I went to law school at night while leading a 25-man, nine-agency Federal task force investigation during the day."
Gutheinz, retired Senior Special Agent, NASA, OIG, said his law degree was beneficial to his law enforcement career because it made him understand the law more than most of his peers in law enforcement. He said it was a concern, however, because he found it necessary to erect a wall between his status as a lawyer and his occupation as a Federal Agent.
"The last thing an Agent wants to do is appear to be dispensing legal advise to a suspect, other than the advice required of Agents, like the Miranda warning," explained Gutheinz, who now teaches police officers and future police officers and Federal Agents at the University of Phoenix and Alvin Community College.
Connolly said having a law degree can prove very useful to someone in law enforcement. "Law degrees mean that you have at least been exposed to most of the constitutional and procedural issues that are relevant to criminal and civil law enforcement. This will be enormously helpful as you begin to understand how to apply those principles to often fast-moving, uncertain, sometimes dangerous situations."
He said a lawyer's ability to quickly analyze factual situations and come to conclusions, such as whether there is reasonable suspicion or probable cause—two standards of proof that are the tools that will be used to conduct investigations—is very important. He added that a lawyer's skill as a good writer in general is an added benefit.
"Whether it be routine reports or lengthy affidavits justifying sophisticated investigative techniques such as wiretaps or surreptitious entries, your writing will be reviewed by judges and will be tested in court by defense counsel," explained Connolly. "Finally, law school graduates are generally good speakers and presenters—another essential ingredient for success—whether it be courtroom testimony, presentations to other agencies, or simply establishing rapport with a subject, victim, or witness."
Gutheinz said the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspectors each have designated positions especially for lawyers occupying law enforcement jobs. He said there are many Agents who are Special Assistant United States Attorneys who prosecute cases.
Gutheinz recommends that interested students check out Firstgov.com and access all the Federal law enforcement agencies through their Web pages, many of which have job openings or contact information. This can also bring up the Office of Personnel Management, which lists thousands of law enforcement jobs each year. He also advises speaking with local law enforcement agencies, career services, as well as doing internships.
He added some other non-law-related advice: "Avoid doing things which would disqualify you or limit your chances. Don't get a DUI/DWI, use drugs, assault your spouse, go bankrupt, disregard paying debts or paying tickets. Develop a reputation for telling the truth. Run five days per week, and keep your weight down—several pounds below what the agency requires. Weight discrimination is the one form of institutionalized discrimination left," said Guheinz.
Connolly, now a Professor/Lead Instructor for the Administration of Justice program at MiraCosta College, said a career in law enforcement can be both exciting and rewarding.
"In 1980, I was contacted by the FBI to begin the hiring process. At that time, I was reluctant because I was enjoying the work as a prosecutor, but I decided to try it—couldn't be bad for my resume," explained Connolly. "Well, that try lasted 23 years, during which [time] I worked with exceptionally talented colleagues, sharing enormously interesting experiences involving real world issues of significant importance to our society. Not a bad way to spend the day."