Investigating Law School
Cait Kutchi ’22 spent so much time working with lawyers at the FBI that she decided to become a student at the University of Virginia School of Law. She’s now in her second year.
At UVA Law, Kutchi serves on the board of the Program in Law and Public Service as well as the National Security Law Forum. She is also an editorial board member of the Virginia Law Review, a Community Fellow and a Law School Ambassador.
The Goshen, Kentucky, native earned a bachelor’s in political science and Spanish from the University of Kentucky.
In our occasional series “Star Witness,” Kutchi discussed her work at the FBI, her favorite UVA Law course and why she wants to join the U.S. Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
Tell us something about your life before law school.
Before law school, I worked as an analyst at the FBI. There, I adjudicated Freedom of Information Act requests and served on the litigation team defending FBI withholdings [of information exempt from disclosure] in court. The act provides the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. FOIA requests generally elicit groans from federal government employees because they often entail an extensive search for responsive records [meaning all records within the scope of a request]. However, the act is an essential tool to hold officials accountable and promote transparency. The act mandates a “presumption of openness” when processing records, but the statute also balances privacy and national security interests. Balancing those interests made for challenging work. The position also exposed me to a wide range of investigations. I collaborated with special agents and assistant U.S. attorneys from all around the United States and drafted declarations that were filed in District Court. At the FOIA shop, I felt like I was a part of the democratic process, and I loved that my work was motivated by a citizen’s curiosity or search for truth.
Why law school?
My work at the FBI solidified my interest in the law. When I first joined, I contemplated transitioning to intelligence work, but I loved interacting with AUSAs and FBI general counsel. Instead of asking, “What happened in this case?” I found myself questioning which legal authorities permitted special agents to take a certain course of action. I also enjoyed getting into the nitty-gritty of each FOIA exemption and presenting arguments for why information should or should not be released — I think I was engaging in some elementary statutory interpretation without knowing it. Ultimately, I wanted to interface with the public and to stand up in court, and to do that, I needed to get back in the classroom.
Describe your most interesting law school experience.
I loved my International Law/Use of Force seminar. Professor Ashley Deeks [currently on leave in a White House legal role] really brought the subject to life for me. Even though about half of my classmates were virtual and half were masked in class, I still got to know everyone very well. During our short, in-class breaks we would pop outside (masked and socially distanced, of course) and Professor Deeks would hang out with us and regale us with some of her Department of State stories. We also had several judge advocate general LL.M. students in the class that were able to speak to their experiences with international law. Toward the end of the semester, we conducted a use of force simulation. We simulated a U.S. National Security Council Situation Room meeting and each student played a role (president, State Department legal adviser, etc.). It was fun and challenging to apply the law to a (simulated) high-stakes scenario.
What’s something your classmates don’t know about you?
I flew out to see my spouse, Justin, at the start of spring break last year. Justin is an active-duty service member and he was stationed at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. I only packed a few T-shirts, shorts, one pair of shoes and my UVA Law sweatshirt. I remember bragging to Justin about how lightly I packed on my flight out. Of course, quarantine began shortly thereafter, and I ended up staying until August. Thankfully, my awesome section mates were able to send me my books. Justin started lovingly referring to my UVA Law sweatshirt as my school uniform because I would wear it while taking Zoom classes. Eventually, I added a few pieces of clothing to my wardrobe. There was a silver lining in this pandemic — it afforded me the opportunity to spend the spring and summer with my spouse. Law school spouses and partners are truly the unsung heroes of UVA Law.
What’s next for you?
This summer I will intern with the Army JAG Corps at Fort Knox. I hope this will lead to a full-time JAG position. The JAGs with whom I have interacted are committed, knowledgeable public servants, and I really look up to them. JAGs also have the opportunity to explore lots of different areas of the law (e.g., criminal prosecution, criminal defense, administrative law, international humanitarian law). I don’t think you see this sort of variation in other sectors, and this career path would be a great opportunity to dabble and find my niche.
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.