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What Does a Law Enforcement/Criminal Justice Career Entail?

Sandra Moser, the acting chief in the Fraud Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, details the storied past of her career, and offers strong advice to those looking at similar careers.

Sandra Moser

Acting Chief, Fraud Section of the U.S. Department of Justice

You have reached really impressive heights in criminal justice/law enforcement. How important was your education in the advancement of your career?

For me, attending law school (a threshold requirement in my profession, of course) and acquiring the basic building blocks for a profession in law would have been futile if not for the opportunity to follow it up with endeavoring to become a great prosecutor and trial lawyer, which, in turn, means never ceasing to learn. Simply put, education — by way of new policies, published cases, law enforcement operations, discussions with colleagues or just failing in an attempt to do something and learning from it — is constant. The learning curve for a new prosecutor, for example, is akin to a brick wall. But you work to educate yourself by way of any resource available to you; there simply is no substitute for standing up and doing it yourself. You eventually get your sea legs, but then what follows are changes in the types of offenses you work, changes in the level of sophistication of the defendants you encounter, changes in your role compared to that of a supervisor or manager, never mind changes in the substantive law or how it is practiced. The blessing and curse of this wonderful profession is the ability to dedicate your life to a job and still have so much more to learn.

If you were talking to an incoming student with a desire to go into law enforcement or criminal justice, what is the best advice that you think you could give them?

There are too many platitudes to count when it comes to considering how and why people progress, whether it be personally or professionally: You control your own fate! Opportunity only knocks once! It’s not what you achieve, it’s what you overcome! The fact is, all of these things are true some of the time, so you had better mix it up. At the end of the day, no matter what profession you choose to pursue, work not to erect self-defeating barriers by, for example, worrying about or competing with others when you should be focused on yourself and your own performance. And, no matter where you are in your career — even as a student hoping to enter a particular field — be mindful of the importance of your reputation for honesty, hard work and professionalism, because that will follow you for years to come.

When did you realize that this was the career path that you wanted to embark on, and what was your biggest motivator?

I entered law school believing that, for my own personal reasons, I wanted to pursue a path in family law. But through classwork and, more importantly, exposure to practicing attorneys and judges through externships, summer associate stints and mentorship, I connected with criminal law and the role of the prosecutor in our system. Having been a prosecutor for roughly 12 years now, I have heard it said countless times by colleagues when speaking to students or job candidates, “This is the best job a lawyer could ever have!” It seems obvious now, but it is hard to overstate the impact of that statement when you hear it for the first time. I believed it; it resonated deeply within me and, from that point of realization, I did not look back. I pursued more opportunities to work in the criminal justice system and nagged as many former prosecutors as I could to advise me on the best, quickest path to a U.S. Attorney’s Office. And, thankfully, someone took a chance on me and gave me the job.

What would you say is the most rewarding part of being in law enforcement, especially in fraud?

I have spent 14 of my 16 years as a practicing lawyer working as a United States federal employee (two as a law clerk and 12 as a federal prosecutor). Each of those years was its own journey, marked by highs and lows too numerous to list, but the one constant has been the absolute luxury of engaging with my attorney and law enforcement agent colleagues on the challenging and consequential issues that we confront daily in order to work to vindicate the rights and interests of victims. Unlike a law firm, there are no billing codes or forms, no clients calling and no limit to the time a dedicated prosecutor or agent will spend working through issues in an effort to get it right. Those conversations, those deliberations, those sparring matches (at times!) where everyone is struggling always to achieve the same goal — getting it right — is by far the most rewarding part of my job.

Why do you think it’s important to motivate more students to continue to pursue their careers in law enforcement/fraud?

I am so glad you asked this question, because I fear that there might exist a serious misconception among the university/law school populations regarding whom is serving them and the public. Law enforcement and fraud prevention is not one-size-fits-all. Indeed, there is diversity of all kinds — including when it comes to politics, personality types and various persuasions — and what unites us all is the ability to leave it at the door in furtherance of the common goal of serving the public in an unbiased and objective way.

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