PUBLISHED:February 19, 2019

National security law conference at Duke Law examines current pressing issues

The agenda for the 24th annual conference of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security (LENS) reflects the dynamic state of national and world affairs, covering topics from immigration and domestic terrorism to territorial disputes in Antarctica and the South China Sea, as well as cyber warfare, neuroscience, super-soldiers, and autonomous weapons. The decision to not identify a specific theme is a break with longstanding tradition, said Professor and LENS Executive Director Charles Dunlap, Jr.

“Our themes have always been sort of ‘ripped from the headlines,’” he said. “But there are so many challenges right now that to focus on one is limiting. There’s something here for everybody.”

The LENS conference, one of the nation’s largest and longest-running national security symposia, will be held at Duke Law School Feb. 22 and 23. Students interested in pursuing a career in national security, whether through the military, at a large firm, or as in-house counsel at a corporation will find the event beneficial with so many experts participating, Dunlap said.

The conference also attracts a broad audience of professionals already in the national security field, including the military and government agencies, as well as students and community members in other disciplines.

Defense alone represents a $750 billion business, Dunlap said. “The way the world has changed and how security issues now influence everything every company does, whatever your practice area it will be rare to have a client that is unaffected by national and international security issues.”

What differentiates the LENS conference from other symposia, Dunlap said, is that speakers are drawn from practicing professionals, many of whom he’s worked with in the national security community, rather than from think tanks. Dunlap said that’s by design.

“Unlike a lot of conferences, we work hard to find the ‘beyond-the-Beltway voices as they often have fresh insights,” he said. “This conference exposes students not only to substantive information but also to other students with similar interests, as well as real experts in the field where they can meet them, talk to them and pose questions.” Other opportunities exist for the savvy student, said Dunlap.  Networking with other attendees, many of whom have significant experience in the national security field, can build their knowledge base and contacts.

The conference opens with a keynote address on near-term security threats by Craig Silliman, executive vice president and general counsel for Verizon Corp. Friday afternoon sessions include a presentation by Michael Chertoff, who served as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009 and co-authored the USA PATRIOT Act that gave the NSA authority to collect communications data from telecommunications providers. In his recent book, Exploding Data: Reclaiming Our Cyber Security in the Digital Age (Atlantic Monthly Press, July 2018), Chertoff argues that the exposure of personal information is the nation’s greatest security threat and calls for an overhaul of outdated privacy laws.

Pre-conference career opportunities panel

A pre-conference lunchtime panel on Thursday, Feb. 21, will focus on career opportunities in national security and feature representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The pre-conference event requires no registration or fee.

“This is to expose students to the different ways they can be in the national security community writ large, without necessarily being in the military,” Dunlap said.

Panelists participating in the Thursday lunchtime event bring a wealth of experience representing the breadth of careers in national security. Treasury representative Caroline Brown formerly worked at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), where she advised senior leadership on national security concerns and global economic and trade issues, as well as counterterrorism, counterespionage, and cybersecurity matters. Prior to joining DOJ, Brown was a litigator at Mayer Brown in Washington, D.C., and a White House communications coordinator for national security during the Obama administration.

Dunlap, who retired from the Air Force after a 34-year career as deputy judge advocate general and with the rank of major general, said Duke Law has been successful at placing students into the highly selective JAG Corps, sending as many as six people per year to a program with a 5 to 10 percent selection rate. The Army and Air Force have the largest programs, hiring about 120 each per year to represent the service and its people in military legal matters, with practice areas range from civil litigation and tort claims to labor and international law.

With its blend of presenters and recruiters from the public and private sectors, the LENS conference will help any student looking to make career connections, whether it’s in Washington, D.C., at the Department of Justice or an intelligence agency, or in the private sector, Dunlap said. A unique feature of the conference, he added, is the LENS Scholar program, which subsidizes attendance for 26 people from 16 different schools and gives Duke students a chance to network with future colleagues.

“Part of our philosophy is we’re building the next generation of leaders,” Dunlap said. “It still is a people business, and getting to know the people that will essentially be our students’ contemporaries I think has some real value. We’re trying to build community.”

The LENS conference offers 11 hours of Continuing Legal Education credit for North Carolina lawyers, and Dunlap said participants can use the state documentation to get credit in other jurisdictions.

The conference is currently sold out, but LENS is maintaining a wait-list for registrants.