7 Suggestions for Law Students and New Lawyers Pursuing National Security Legal Careers

Today’s post is another in our series about fascinating private sector opportunities for those interested in national security matters.  We are extremely fortunate that Ms. Lee Tiedrich is willing to share some strategies for those law students and new lawyers wanting to pursue a career path along these lines.

Ms. Tiedrich

Lee’s credentials are stunning.  She’s a partner at Covington & Burling LLP and is the Co-Chair of the firm’s global and multi-disciplinary Artificial Intelligence Initiative and also specializes in intellectual property and technology transactions.  She received her J.D., cum laude, from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and B.S.E., magna cum laude, from Duke University, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society. Ms. Tiedrich is also a Senior Lecturing Fellow at Duke University Law School.

7 Suggestions for Law Students and New Lawyers Pursuing National Security Legal Careers

by Lee Tiedrich

National security broadly refers to safeguarding the security and welfare of the United States against external threats.  While foreign policy and protecting the United States against military attacks remain critical, national security has expanded to include shielding the United States from a wide range of other threats. 

Such threats include, for example, cybersecurity attacks, terrorism, foreign interference with our democratic processes and infrastructure, disinformation, and nefarious use of biologics, chemicals, data, and other technology.  Given the crises our nation has faced in 2020, many are now viewing pandemics and climate change as national security issues. [1]

Public and private sector organizations will continue to need lawyers with national security expertise to address a panoply of matters.  In the public sector, national security career opportunities exist within the military and other government institutions, such as the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the National Security Council, the Federal Communications Commission,[2] the Commerce Department,[3] the Department of Defense, and in Congressional offices and committees, such as the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.  In the private sector, opportunities abound, including in law firms, consulting firms, corporations, the media, academia, think tanks, and other organizations. 

Legal issues with national security implications span several substantive areas, such as foreign policy, international relations, trade controls and foreign investment in US entities, immigration matters shaped by national security concerns, cybersecurity and technology issues, compliance, public policy, government contracts, and law enforcement matters.  As law students and new lawyers explore national security careers, they should consider the following strategies to optimize their efforts to identify and obtain interesting career opportunities.

1. Think Broadly.  As set forth above, national security encompasses a broad range of legal matters.  Geopolitically, the sources of national security threats posed by state and non-state actors continue to evolve.  As law students and new lawyers start their national security law career journeys, they should be open to a wide range of opportunities across substantive disciplines and organizations. 

2. Educate Yourself.  Students and new lawyers should capitalize on the myriad of opportunities to increase their knowledge about the many facuets of national security.  For example, they should consider taking a course on national security law, if possible, and read high quality national security blogs and other publications. 

Law students also should consider forming or joining a national security student club at their law school or organizing a national security webinar or other program featuring one or more outside speakers.  Organizing programs may be easier in the virtual world since it eliminates the need for travel. It also may be a good way to engage with potential employers by inviting them to participate in the program and working with them to shape the content.

3. Publications, Research and Externships.  Students and new lawyers should consider publishing an article on national security in order deepen their knowledge and establish themselves as experts.  Publications can range from law review articles to blog posts. 

Law students also may want to pursue research positions with professors who work on national security matters or externships with organizations engaged in the field.  In addition to expanding knowledge about national security, these types of activities may help differentiate an applicant in the job market.

4. Networking.  Law students and new lawyers should pursue opportunities to network meaningfully with p national security experts.  In addition to helping students and lawyers expand their knowledge, this may provide insight about career opportunities.  It also may lead to introductions to prospective employers or references for the job search. 

5. Consider a Cross-Disciplinary Approach.  Many universities have a wealth of resources, in addition to the law school, that may be relevant to national security, such as public policy, engineering, foreign affairs, business and ethics curricula.  Law students should consider ways to integrate some of these other substantive areas into their legal education, such as through a cross-disciplinary program.  This is another way that law students can expand their knowledge and help differentiate themselves as experts.

6. Research Prospective Employers.  It is important for students and new lawyers to do their homework in the job search process.  Before any interview, they should research the potential employer and understand how national security impacts the prospective employer’s interests and operations and be familiar with the prospective employer’s objectives and operations more broadly. 

Job applicants should be prepared to ask the prospective employer informed questions about the prospective employer’s goals and operations.   In addition, applicants also should be prepared to explain how they can help the prospective employer achieve its objectives. 

7. Embrace Your Opportunities.  While securing a good first legal job is important, it is simply the first step in a long career journey.  When new lawyers enter the workforce, they should embrace the opportunities available to them with enthusiasm, professionalism, and creativity.  They should consider ways to be proactive and to contribute positively to their employer’s goals and success.  By feeling vested in a job and an employer’s objectives, lawyers may enhance their performance as well as their overall job satisfaction. 


[1] https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/28766/covid-19-and-climate-change-will-change-the-definition-of-national-security

[2] https://www.fcc.gov/document/protecting-national-security-through-fcc-programs-0.; https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-designates-zte-national-security-threat

[3] https://www.bis.doc.gov/index.php/about-bis/organization/program-offices

This article reflects the author’s views. It is not intended to represent the views of the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP or any firm client. This paper is for general informational purposes only, and it is not intended to be and should not be taken to be legal advice.  Copyright Covington & Burling LLP 2020, all rights reserved.


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