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Career Advice For Lawyers From A Capitol Hill Veteran

Today’s guest, Ken Ballen, is a Capitol Hill veteran. After years working as a federal prosecutor, Ken served as a Congressional investigator in exciting roles working on the Hill – including lead investigator on the Iran-Contra Committee hearings and Chief Counsel to the Speaker of the House.

Ken shares advice with us in this career video on what to do with a law degree when working on the Hill. He explains that in addition to opportunities that are somewhat similar to law practice, like investigative roles, the Hill offers policy positions, which are less like practicing law. You’ll also hear advice from Ken on related career paths that you can take before or after working on the Hill.

Join JD Careers Out There for access to this video plus more day-in-the-life career path interview videos & transcripts.

Today’s Guest

Ken Ballen, Terror Free TomorrowCapitol Hill Veteran & Non-Profit President Ken Ballen
Title: President, Terror Free Tomorrow
City: Washington, D.C.
Law School: Columbia Law School in New York, NY
Grad School: Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy (MA in Int’l Affairs)
College: Tufts University in Medford, MA
Previous Careers: Congressional investigator and federal prosecutor
Ken’s Videos: Ken’s Career Advice & Working On the Hill

Working on the Hill

In the full career video interview, Ken tells us how to break in to working on the Hill. He covers whether it’s necessary to come from a fancy, top-ranked law school, the skill sets that will help you, and where you should get started with your job hunting.

As a bonus, you’ll also find a special video with Ken, below. After many years in government working on the Hill, Ken started a non-profit organization focused on studying terrorism and worldwide attitudes towards extremism. The board of his non-profit includes heavy hitters like Senator John McCain. In the bonus video, Ken and I discuss his book, Terrorists In Love, which profiles 6 (out of the 100) terrorists whom Ken spent time interviewing. Buying his book from the link below supports JDCOT.

Ken’s Book Terrorists In Love

*Buying via the Amazon link above supports JDCOT.


This is a preview of the transcript for the video on working on Capitol Hill.

Join JD Careers Out There for access to the full version of this transcript plus the career guidance video library & transcripts.

Luber: Hey everyone – welcome to JD CareersOutThere, where we get you career advice from fellow lawyers and non-practicing lawyers to help you find success and happiness in your career – whether you choose to practice law or you’re leaving the law to pursue alternative careers for lawyers.

I’m Marc Luber – and today we’re gonna talk to someone who has used his law degree in a lot of exciting ways. Our guest is Ken Ballen – and Ken started his career as a federal prosecutor before moving to Washington to start working on The Hill as a Congressional investigator, where he worked on major issues like the Iran Contra fiasco in the 80s.

Ken experienced multiple roles on the Hill – including serving as Chief Counsel to the Speaker of the House.

Today he runs a non-profit organization that he founded called Terror Free Tomorrow which studies why people become terrorists and support terrorism. Interesting stuff!

He’s also the author of a book called Terrorists in Love which he wrote after spending time interviewing 100 radicals. We’re gonna talk about ALL that today, and Ken’s gonna share advice about working on The Hill.

In case this is your first time with us, you know in law school, you learn how to think, read and write like a lawyer. We’re here to help you enjoy your career – just like our guests do. They’re all fellow JDs, coming on to share their stories and advice with you – to help you figure out what to do with your law degree so you can get on the right path and thrive.

I’m your host, Marc Luber, and I’ve enjoyed careers using my law degree without practicing law – in the music industry and attorney recruiting. It’s my mission to help you find that right career so you can be happy – life’s too short for anything less.

There’s so many things you can do with your JD – and today you’ll hear about a bunch of them from our guest Ken Ballen. It’s great stuff – so stick around!

[theme song] OK, we’re back! Ken, welcome to the show.

Ken Ballen: Thank you so much for having me, Marc. I appreciate it.

Luber: Definitely, thanks for being here. So Ken, you’ve used your law degree in so many exciting ways and what I want to focus on today is your work on the Hill in Washington D.C., working with the US Congress. What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of working on the Hill?

Ken Ballen: The most rewarding aspect is the feeling of getting something accomplished, even if you don’t achieve completely the goal that you set out for. And it’s also a very exciting place.

You’re involved in the headlines, you’re making the headlines. You’re part of the news; you’re not reading it, you’re a part of it. You’re actively involved in it and it’s going to be a very exciting experience.

Luber: And there’s a variety of roles that people can do with a law degree?

Ken Ballen: Absolutely. There are investigative and legislative positions but there’s also a lot of policy positions where you’re advising…so you’re not strictly acting as a lawyer, per se.

So there’s plenty of opportunities – and I think as a lawyer you have a professional skill that whether or not you’re actually practicing law, is very well respected on the Hill.

Luber: Share some advice on how being a lawyer is helpful when trying to break in to working on the Hill.

Ken Ballen: The point I would make to all the people watching this who would want career advice is the following: As a lawyer going to Capitol Hill, you have a tremendous advantage because you have a skill that people respect and that people can use.

So I think it’s a wonderful opportunity, I mean you can do both the investigative work that I did but you can also do legislative work.

And as an attorney, the best place to look for a job is with the committees, not with the personal staffs. I worked on special committees but I also worked on other committees too – or the leadership. I worked for the leadership too. I was Chief Counsel to the Speaker of the House.

So the Leadership or the committee staffs are really the elite of the Hill, both in the House and the Senate. And as an attorney, I think you have an opportunity on the Hill that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Luber: This is great. Let’s dig deeper into all of this in the full interview. We’ll also talk about breaking in jobs on Capitol Hill, and related career paths you can take before or after working on the Hill.

You’ll want to join the JDCOT membership for access to the full versions of the career interviews & transcripts to help you find and land a career that fits you. Check out what people are saying about JDCOT by clicking here.

Thanks again for watching everybody. I’m Marc Luber and I’ll see ya soon.

[theme song]

©2015 Careers Out There

Do you want to be working on the Hill? Are there specific roles that interest you? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments!

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  • SL

    What an interesting career he’s had! I am also a former federal prosecutor, but I took several years off to be home with kids and am now looking to reenter the workforce in a different capacity. I live in California (new to the area, so not much of a network yet) and am wondering — are there any opportunities to do investigative work similar to what Ken Ballen did but on a state level? If so, how would one look into it? Any thoughts?

    • Hi @SL – thanks for commenting and welcome to California! You ask a great question. I assume the answer must be yes but I don’t have anything to back that up. I would look into things like “California state legislative careers” and even state Dept of Justice careers under state AG Kamala Harris. Maybe there’s roles as a state prosecutor or for the state bureau of investigations, etc. Also, on JDCOT, you’ll find an interview with an Asst AG from Oregon….and a public lobbyist representing the city of Portland, OR. I hope that helps!

      • SL

        Thanks, Marc!



Thinking of leaving the law? The best first step you can take is a good look in the mirror. START HERE:

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