Kayla Fries ’22 inspired by ‘mission-first’ culture in national security work placements
She says classes at the Law School prepared her for internship, other placements, and made her application more competitive.
Kayla Fries ’22 knew she wanted to go into national security law when she arrived at Duke Law School, and she has taken as many related classes as possible. Not only did her coursework quickly cement her passion for the field, but it also set her on a path to get a dream position after graduation, through the Attorney General’s Honors Program (DOJ Honors).
Over her three years at Duke Law, Fries has participated in a number of activities that built on her skills and helped prepare her for a career in national security. She worked with the Wrongful Convictions Clinic and Duke Law Innocence Project, served as a research assistant and legal fellow for the Wilson Center for Science and Justice, served as a legal intern in the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit of the Suffolk County DA’s Office, and is working toward completing the Public Interest and Public Service Certificate. She has also been the co-president of the National Security Law Society, vice president of the Public Interest Law Foundation, and a member of the Duke Law Mock Trial Board.
After she graduates in May, the Victor, NY-native will be working as assistant general counsel in the FBI’s Office of General Counsel. In an interview, she described her experiences through the Law School and how they have helped her grow. (Editor’s note: The opinions expressed are those of Kayla Fries, not of the Department of Justice or Federal Bureau of Investigation).
Please tell me more about your most recent summer internship. What was the best part about it?
Last summer, I had the opportunity to work as a legal honors intern in the FBI Honors Internship Program. In this role, I independently drafted administrative documents, reviewed and analyzed precedent, and familiarized myself with the policies of the FBI. I assisted attorneys with the adjudication of employee misconduct and worked closely with an assistant director on presentation materials, data analytics, and a long-term research project.
Throughout this academic year, I have remained an active participant in the FBI Honors Internship Program, in the Office of General Counsel’s Litigation Branch. In this role, I have drafted briefs and administrative documents, reviewed case files, conducted legal research, and produced settlement memoranda.
Thus far, the highlight of my internship has been the network of people with whom I’ve connected. Attorneys, agents, and professional staff have been eager to form personal connections, provide guidance and advice, describe their experiences within the bureau, and support my academic and professional endeavors. It is inspiring to work alongside a team of people seeking to uphold the safety of our country and its inhabitants.
Please tell me more about your experience with the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.
Last semester, I participated in the Duke in D.C. program and worked full-time for the Counterterrorism Section (CTS) of the National Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. I was responsible for supporting trial attorneys in matters of both domestic and international terrorism, including material support cases, weapons of mass destruction cases, threatening communications cases, and others.
I conducted extensive legal research, produced numerous memoranda that informed internal and external matters, drafted motions and oppositions, and participated in meetings and conference calls with agency partners and international practitioners. I was challenged to consider convoluted legal questions and to propose creative and legally sound arguments in response.
I also provided broad support to CTS trial attorneys and assistant U.S. attorneys as they navigated pre-trial matters and prepared for trial. The end of my internship coincided with the beginning of trial, and I had the opportunity to observe private voir dire, strategize with attorneys, and conduct time-sensitive research in response to the events of each day. I was incredibly grateful for and excited by the experience, as it was my first time observing and participating in a federal criminal jury trial.
My internship with CTS also included several opportunities for academic writing. In collaboration with CTS’ counsel for domestic terrorism, I authored sections of an internal guidebook on national security prosecutions, which will soon be published for widespread use by members of the U.S. Department of Justice. Additionally, under the supervision of the National Security Division’s weapons of mass destruction coordinators, I was responsible for drafting and coordinating submissions to a high-level international law enforcement organization for use in an international resource addressing investigations into and prosecutions of weapons of mass destruction matters.
Did your experience change your plans following graduation? How have your internships and externship enhanced your Law School experience?
Upon starting law school, I eagerly took advantage of Duke Law’s robust national security course offerings, dedicated professors, and networking opportunities. My passion for national security and cyber law quickly materialized, and I was thrilled by the opportunity to complement my studies with practical experience as a legal honors intern in the FBI Honors Internship Program and legal intern at CTS.
These placements provided insight into the complexity and breadth of matters addressed by the Department of Justice and the FBI. I experienced the mission-first culture, familiarized myself with departmental policies and procedures, and greatly enhanced my knowledge of national security and criminal matters.
How have your experiences prepared you for your career, or positioned you to improve your career, after you graduate?
Earning a position within the federal government through the Attorney General’s Honors Program (DOJ Honors) was a steadfast goal of mine, as I aspire to work in a position that is challenging and consequential. Not only did my summer and fall placements confirm this goal, but they provided invaluable experience that, I believe, made me a more competitive candidate throughout the DOJ Honors application process.
How has your work deepened your understanding of or changed your views on national security or the role of public institutions in protecting public safety?
In the federal government, and especially in the national security space, you often hear of a “mission-first” culture. The idea of working to support a larger cause – with regional, national, or international implications – appealed to me. Experiencing this mentality firsthand was inspiring.
My work introduced me to a wide variety of policies and practices that contextualized the values that the Department of Justice and FBI work diligently to uphold. Working closely with attorneys in the national security space translated into organic mentorship opportunities that demonstrated attorneys' passion for the cause and only increased my desire to contribute.