Sutherland's Legal Career Includes Interlude as Secret Service Agent

Thursday, February 14, 2008, Vol. 123, No. 31

"I left (Butler Snow) after 9/11. I kind of felt the pull to do something for the country."

- Kari Sutherland
Name: Kari Sutherland
Position: Attorney
Firm: Butler, Snow, O'Mara, Stevens and Cannada PLLC
Basics: Sutherland concentrates her practice in product liability defense with an emphasis on pharmaceutical defense.

Kari Sutherland is a recent arrival at the Memphis office of Butler, Snow, O'Mara, Stevens and Cannada PLLC. She's not new to the practice of law - she previously spent time as an attorney at Butler Snow's Jackson, Miss., office. She has been away from the law firm environment for a few years, though.

It was while working in Jackson that Sutherland took a different legal direction. Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, she decided to leave the firm and work with the newly formed U.S. Department of Homeland Security. She was a special agent in the U.S. Secret Service from 2004 to 2007.

Q: Why did you give up your legal work in Jackson to go with Homeland Security?

A: I left after 9/11. I kind of felt the pull to do something for the country. I talked to one of our partners who actually had come over from the U.S. Attorney's office. He'd been there 30 years and he had worked with several different agencies. I inquired of him as to which agency he thought was the most professional, the most fun, had the best cases. He recommended the Secret Service. So that is who I applied with.

Q: What is your practice area?

A: I practice mainly pharmaceutical defense. The whole generic category would be product liability defense with an emphasis on pharmaceutical defense.

Q: Where did you attend undergraduate and law school?

A: The University of Alabama for undergraduate, and I went to Mississippi College School of Law (Jackson, Miss.) for my law degree.

Q: Do you have an enduring law school memory?

A: I remember sitting in Professor (Craig R.) Callen's class. He used the Socratic method and I was hoping he would not call on me several times. I had a great time participating in a moot court competition called the Saul Lefkowitz competition. My partner and I went and argued our brief. I can't remember where we went but that was a very fun experience as well.

Q: You clerked for a federal district court judge and a federal appeals court judge. How valuable is that kind of experience and how did it shape your decision to pursue law as a career?

A: I personally think it's invaluable to have both levels of the clerkship. With the district court you're kind of down in the trenches. You can see from that position kind of what the district judge is looking for. He's looking for case law so he doesn't get reversed. He's looking for an understanding that you're going to be persuasive, but he's looking for really objective criteria to base his opinions on - facts and the law. Federal court judges aren't looking for a lot of spin. You get that sense after you clerk and you see what they're looking for and how they make their rulings.

With the appellate courts - Judge (E. Grady) Jolly I think really helped improve my writing. You see more how to write persuasively as opposed to arguing persuasively. You get more of an opportunity with a district court judge to argue obviously than you do going to the appellate level. Not all of the cases get picked up or give you a chance to argue. Seeing it from both levels was an invaluable experience. Of course, networking - you get to know them on a personal level. That's very helpful as well.

Q: Is there a person you would most like to depose or get on the witness stand?

A: I'd love to have a conversation with (U.S. Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice. I don't know that I particularly would want to depose her about anything. I'd sure love to get that chance to talk to her. I have high regard for her.