The Catholic University of America

L-R: CUA law alumnae Roslyn Mazer, 1975; Jennifer Levy, 1979, and Anne M. Donohue, 1998. Of legal practice in the national security field, Mazer told the audience "the work carries heavy burdens and those don't get any lighter."

A Calling to National Security Legal Practice

Is it ever worth it to give up the salary and perks of big-firm private practice for less money, crazy hours and the knowledge that a wrong decision may actually cost lives?

If the tradeoff involves defending the security of the United States, the answer is a resounding yes, according to three CUA law alumnae.

"Women in National Security Law," a panel presentation on Sept. 29 sponsored by the Military & National Security Law Students Association and the Office of Career and Professional Development, brought together three graduates who currently practice in the field to discuss the unique challenges and satisfactions that come with it.

Roslyn Mazer, 1975, is inspector general in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, an entity created after 9/11 that serves as the head of America's intelligence community. It acts as the principal advisor to the president, the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council. Mazer made the move to government service after nearly 20 years in lucrative private practice.

"To me there is nothing more gratifying and inspiring than to be in the public sector," she told the CUA law students in attendance. "The work is about as significant as you can do as a lawyer."

Variety and excitement frequently accompany legal careers in national security, echoed Jennifer Levy, 1979, now with the counterterrorism section of the U.S. Department of Justice National Security Division. Like Mazer, with whom she once worked at Dickstein Shapiro, Levy was attracted to government service by the call of a larger mission. One of the first cases she was assigned to involved the prosecution of the hijackers of a TWA flight in Beirut, Lebanon in 1985.

"Nothing in law school could have prepared me for this!" said Levy, who observed that even today many attorneys in the national security field learn the tools of their trade as they go along.

Anne M. Donohue, 1998, is vice president and chief legal officer for SRA International, Inc. Among other services, the company provides the software and technical and functional expertise for most of the nation's top security agencies.

"It's a very varied practice, never dull," said Donohue of her work for the 7,000 employee company.

One of the biggest downsides of a national security law practice, the panelists acknowledged, is that much of what they do cannot be discussed, even with family members. This is especially true for Mazer. She told the audience that her husband has been asked many times over the years, "what if your wife talks in her sleep?" His standard reply: "Oh, she does, but it's encrypted."