From Transactional Law To Enforcing the Law
Steven Kuhn JD’98 is not at liberty to say exactly what he does for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In fact, if a stranger at a cocktail party inquires about his career, Kuhn says he’s an attorney.
It’s a viable alias. Before joining the FBI in January 2007, Kuhn worked for eight years at what is now Portland’s Wyse Kadish LLP. He specialized in transactional business law and enjoyed the big-picture perspective of what clients needed and how to achieve their goals.
“I liked working with clients who were predominately small and family-owned businesses and non-profits,” he said. “I appreciated being able to develop long-term relationships with clients and having a better grasp of how to solve their problems as opposed to taking a cookie-cutter approach.”
While that work was rewarding, Kuhn eventually wanted something new. He aspired to a career that was intellectually challenging and offered a practical means of helping people, which was what made him want to become a lawyer. At 36 — slightly older than the average FBI applicant – Kuhn, an ultra runner and road cyclist, took on the rigorous physical and mental tests required to become a special agent.
“I wanted something that would be more fulfilling at the end of the day and at the end of my career,” said Kuhn, who now lives in New Mexico with his wife, Cindy. “I like the unpredictability and variety of my work. You never know what’s going to happen when you walk in the door each day, which is kind of cool.”
Kuhn is one of many attorneys who joined the FBI as a second career. It wasn’t a childhood dream and he didn’t have any preconceived notions when he applied. Rather, it was a kind of kismet that drew him to the “Jobs” section of the FBI’s website. “It just clicked and I knew that would satisfy what I was looking for,” he said, noting that law school classes such as criminal procedure prepared him for what he does now.
Life as an FBI agent shares certain similarities with being a transactional lawyer — namely, paperwork and a 50-hour-plus workweek. While he misses his former clients, Kuhn said he appreciates the family-like atmosphere the FBI provides.
“It’s a different level of trust when you’re kicking down a door and the person behind you is pointing a gun over your shoulder,” he said.
Kuhn’s journey from a traditional legal career to his role as a special agent has more than provided him with the intellectual challenge he sought. It also has rewarded him with the knowledge that his career is more than just a job.
“I wanted to be able to look back and say, ‘The investigations I worked on really made a difference,’” Kuhn said. “You spend a lot of time at your job, and I want to be able to say to my family and friends that I feel good about what I do each day and I feel that it matters.”
– Melody Finnemore
“I like the unpredictability and variety of my work. You never know what’s going to happen when you walk in the door each day, which is kind of cool.”