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What’s a federal prosecutor forced to resign by a new president to do?
Rub elbows with the next generation of lawyers, apparently.
Three of the 46 recently ousted U.S. attorneys have in the past week unveiled plans to join law schools, eschewing—for now—the more well-traveled and lucrative path into Big Law. A fourth U.S. attorney jumped over to the legal academy after resigning several months before President Donald Trump took office.
It’s not unheard of for former U.S. attorneys to find refuge on law campuses, though the concentration of such announcements over the past week is unusual and due to the simultaneous housecleaning of all holdover prosecutors appointed by former President Barack Obama. Joining a law school can offer former prosecutors a way station as they mull their future endeavors, be it running for public office or diving into private practice. Or the academy can be their desired destination—several former federal prosecutors have gone on to serve as law deans or faculty fixtures.
“I think there will be more,” said David Hickton, the former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania who resigned in November and two months later accepted a position at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. “There are two reasons for that: First, I think these things catch a little bit like a fever, and now that three of us have done it, others will look at it more closely than they would have before. Secondly, the private practice of law is in a reshuffling and rebalancing. There seems to be an oversupply of lawyers.”
The University of Michigan Law School kicked off the mini-trend on March 14 with an announcement that Barbara McQuade, who spent seven years as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, is joining the faculty in May to teach national security, criminal law, and criminal procedure.
Two days later, Seton Hall University School of Law announced that former U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Paul Fishman will be a visiting fellow at the school. Then on Tuesday, New York University School of Law announced that Preet Bharara, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and perhaps the most high-profile of the fired prosecutors, would join the school as a scholar in residence on April 1.
“I am honored to join the NYU School of Law, one of the great educational institutions in America, and I welcome the chance to contribute in such a thoughtful setting,” Bharara said. “I am thrilled for this opportunity to continue addressing the issues I so deeply care about—criminal and social justice, honest government, national security, civil rights and corporate accountability, to name a few.”
Since January, Hickton has served as the founding director of Pittsburgh University’s new Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security. He’s also tackling the opioid epidemic as a fellow in the university’s Institute of Politics. Cybersecurity and opioid abuse were two of his priorities as U.S. attorney.
“My thinking was this is an excellent platform to continue the public-spirited work on many of the things I cared most about as U.S. attorney,” Hickton said. “That’s something a university could provide and a law firm environment could not.”
The latest cohort of former federal prosecutors joining law schools are filling a variety of roles, though none are traditional, full-time, tenured faculty positions that come with teaching and scholarship requirements. Michigan has said McQuade will teach a variety of courses as a “professor of practice”—a title reserved for seasoned practitioners who join the academy later in their careers.
NYU has not specified what Bharara will do as a “distinguished scholar in residence,” though it has said the position, while considered full time, would not preclude him from taking on other engagements. Law Dean Trevor Morrison told The New York Times that students and faculty will benefit from Bharara’s “deep knowledge and experience in criminal justice.”
Fishman’s position at Seton Hall is not full time, according to the school. As a distinguished visiting fellow, he will guest lecture, meet informally with students, and be the keynote speaker in the law school’s health care compliance program.
“Access to someone with Mr. Fishman’s experience is a rare opportunity for those interested in public service careers, the practice of criminal law, or the compliance profession,” said Seton Hall Dean Kathleen Boozang. “He is already well-known among students who have interned in the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a fabulous mentor who impresses upon them their duty of practicing law with integrity and a commitment to fairness and justice.”
The legal academy holds long-term allure for some former federal prosecutors. Alexander Acosta left his position at the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida in 2009 to become dean of Florida International University College of Law. Acosta’s name might sound familiar—he’s poised to leave the FIU deanship after eight years and become the next U.S. Secretary of Labor. His U.S. Senate confirmation hearing was Wednesday.
Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has served as the dean of the Belmont University College of Law since 2014, and joined the school two years earlier as chairman.
Gonzales’ predecessor, John Ashcroft, has been a distinguished professor of law and government at the Pat Robertson-founded Regent University School of Law since 2005, while also serving as chairman of his crisis management firm The Ashcroft Law Firm.
In announcing her decision to join Michigan Law, her alma mater, McQuade cited the “critical moment in our nation’s history.”
“Helping students to develop a deep understanding of our laws, courts and legal system has never been more important,” she said.
There’s an excitement and energy that comes with being in an academic environment, Hickton said. “I find myself feeling a certain responsibility—that I had the opportunity to be a U.S. attorney and to share that with the next generation of law students,” he said. “I enjoyed being a U.S. attorney as much as anything I’ve done professionally, but I am very happy where I am right now and very excited about my future.”
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