Can you give us a brief overview of what transpired in your life post-SMWS?
After graduating from SMWS in 2001, I attended Connecticut College, which has fantastic international opportunities that allowed me to study and intern for United Nations organizations in both Vietnam and Germany. After graduating, I moved to Washington, D.C., where I worked at the Federal Trade Commission (2005-07) and then the Central Intelligence Agency (2007-2012). While continuing to work at the CIA, I went back to school for a law degree at Georgetown starting in 2011, and interned in the part of Obama’s White House focused on science and technology. Since receiving my J.D. from Georgetown in 2014, I have been practicing law at the international law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.
What led you to study International Relations at Connecticut College, and what prompted you to continue your studies at Georgetown?
On September 11, 2001, I was a college freshman in my first weeks of classes when hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In retrospect, although my family and I were physically unharmed by the attack, I think 9/11 had a profound impact on my choice of studies and career. As for many Americans, 9/11 instilled a fear for my personal security that I had not previously felt, but it also ignited an intense motivation to learn more about the world and others. I redoubled my efforts to learn foreign languages, live overseas, and understand the socioeconomic root causes of terrorism. This is what led me to study and write an honors thesis in International Relations. This is also what led me to work at the CIA. I owe a lot of credit to SMWS for providing me with the tools to respond to 9/11 in this way. SMWS instilled in me a love of learning and a desire to seek greater understanding and empathy at a time when many were recoiling in fear.
What were some of the highlights and challenges about practicing law during this time in US history?
This is a fascinating time to be practicing law! In my opinion, it has never been more important than it is today to use legal tools to protect free speech, equal protection, press and religious freedoms, and antidiscrimination laws! My law firm has been front and center in responding to President Trump’s unconstitutional and, frankly, un-American immigration crackdown. But there are also many less newsy ways in which lawyers are helping. For example, last year, I helped a woman from Afghanistan attain refugee status and served as pro-bono guardian ad litem representing two children in a child custody dispute in the District of Columbia.
Similarly, what were some of the challenges and highlights of working as an analyst at the CIA, writing assessments for the Presidential Daily Brief?
Keeping it short! Especially when writing for the President and other Cabinet-level policymakers, I found that the greatest challenge was communicating complex information concisely.
More generally, analysts at the CIA face the challenge of deciphering meaning from an overwhelming volume of incomplete and often-contradictory data, both classified and public. I think SMWS prepared me particularly well for these challenges because it instilled in me an incredible appetite for learning. I also think my education gave me the ability to communicate ambiguity and complexity where others might seek categorical black-and-white answers.
What were some of the underlying reasons prompting your return to Boulder, away from DC?
In short, we moved back to be closer to family and to give our children the opportunity to grow up in this wonderful place. We decided to move back to Boulder when my wife was pregnant with our second child. Now we are just a short walk or drive from my parents, and my oldest son is already attending Boulder Waldorf Kindergarten.
If you could choose to take on only a certain kind of case and / or client, what and who would that be?
Actually, one of the aspects of practicing law at Gibson Dunn that I like best is the breadth of clients and issues. I have had the opportunity to defend a small startup developing cancer-fighting immunotherapy drugs, draft appellate briefs on behalf of the largest freight railway in North America, research First Amendment protections for commercial speech in a food labeling case, and help defend immigrants from deportation. However, to attempt to answer your question, I think if I had to pick one client or area of practice, I would try to choose an innovative company in the renewable energy field because I believe that climate change presents the single greatest long-term challenge to our civilization.
What advice would you give to a young adult (and to us all!) growing up in this turbulent and charged political environment?
I think the best response to the current political environment is to seek truth and empathy for others. My two year old has entered the age of asking “why” all the time. It has been a wonderful reminder to me to try to look past the latest headline or tweet and to try to understand the underlying motivations or fears of those with whom I disagree. We live during an incredible age of information, but there is also a lot of disinformation out there. I think we need to continue the age-old search for truth.
You have 2 little ones now. What’s the most important value that you as a dad would wish to share with them, and why?
Gratitude is the value that I wish to share with my sons. I think it is often difficult for us to acknowledge all the help we have received along our journeys. Perhaps we think that it would diminish our own accomplishments. But I certainly would not be where I am today without the assistance of such wonderful parents, teachers, and friends, not to mention the unprecedented levels of peace, prosperity and civil liberties that our generation has enjoyed and so often takes for granted. I think just drawing attention to the privilege that we enjoy helps us to live better lives.