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Posted June 15, 2011

Christopher Kavanaugh '06 Discusses Work as Federal Prosecutor

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Christopher Kavanaugh

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This is the first in an occasional series in which Law School alums discuss their careers, offer advice for current students and recall their Law School experiences.

Where are you working?

Homicide Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

How did your time at Virginia Law prepare you for your career?

Virginia Law gave me the foundation that I needed for the courtroom. First, through Evidence, Trial Advocacy and Federal Criminal Practice, I learned the basic skill sets necessary to try a case. Second, Virginia Law taught me how to take facts and apply them to a variety of legal arguments, and most importantly to do so quickly. 

You were involved with the prosecutions of Gilbert Arenas, an NBA star charged with a firearms violation, as well as the prosecution of Ingmar Guandique, who was convicted of murdering Chandra Levy. What was it like to work on cases that received such intense national scrutiny?

Both of those cases, although very different, were unforgettable experiences. With the Arenas prosecution, I hardly noticed the media coverage until it was nearly over because I was forced to rapidly lead a grand jury investigation to uncover what had happened and what crimes had occurred. Similarly, the Guandique prosecution, like all homicide prosecutions, required countless hours of research, writing, witness and exhibit preparation, and logistical planning. You must constantly realize that every decision made will be scrutinized under the media’s microscope. Some will agree with those decisions. Some will disagree. Ultimately, you are left alone to represent the United States, armed with your best judgment and the support of your fellow prosecutors. 

What’s the most fulfilling part of working as a federal prosecutor?

The sense of accomplishment that comes with a successful prosecution. From arrest, initial detention, grand jury investigation, trial and verdict, to when 12 jurors of your community announced that a person committed a violent crime against an innocent victim and should be punished, the experience is powerful and rewarding.

What advice would you offer to current Virginia Law students interested in prosecutorial work?

Try to get involved in prosecutorial work as soon after law school as possible.  Newly graduated lawyers commonly delay their attempted entrance into the prosecutorial world, putting it off in favor of positions with large law firms under the belief that they may afford better training for a young lawyer.  On many occasions, these late-comers find the positions are extremely competitive, and they are often passed over for more recent graduates who are less burdensome on their shoestring budget.  Moreover, as a young lawyer, I cannot imagine a better training experience than leading your own investigation, building a case and trying it. 

In high school, you worked in your parents’ restaurant. What was your favorite place to eat in Charlottesville?

The White Spot. Late.

[The White Spot is a small diner on the Corner best known for its Gus Burger — one hamburger patty, cheese and a fried egg.]

What was one of your favorite Law School classes, and why?

Federal Criminal Practice with Tim Heaphy [a 1991 Law School graduate who is now U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia]. Before this class, I always believed I wanted to be a federal prosecutor. After the class, I had no doubt. 

Alumni Q&A Archive