From CIA to TBA

Brad Caldwell meets the most convincing law school recruiter ever

Published in 2009 Texas Rising Stars — April 2009

Brad Caldwell never planned to be a lawyer. He just wanted to keep his options open and possibly keep working for the CIA.

As an undergrad at Texas A&M University, Caldwell had taken part in the agency's cooperative education program.

"They're effectively internships," Caldwell says. "You stop going to school for a while, and the hope is you'll work for them for a few semesters and after you graduate, you'll come to work for them full-time."

Caldwell was a prime candidate—he'd been part of an advanced math and science high school program where he'd earned college credit; by age 19, he was technically a college senior. And the CIA was looking for electrical engineering majors like him.

The CIA wants engineers to help design, build and operate systems and devices that help the CIA gather information and help field agents report back to analysts, says Caldwell.

He was thrilled when the CIA invited him to take a leave from school and work for them in Langley, Va., where he obtained top-secret security clearance. "It's not glamorous like wearing tuxedos and shooting at bad guys," he says, "but it's clearly important work."

But when he returned to school to finish his degree, an unexpected thing happened. Caldwell's roommate was late to play a basketball game one day, and as Caldwell waited for him, he started chatting with a law school representative who was on campus recruiting.

"As crazy as this sounds, in about a 15-minute time period I decided that this was really something that suited me," Caldwell says.

He didn't give up his CIA dreams right away; he was accepted to George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., and he thought he'd possibly work for the CIA during the day and go to school at night.

"But the more I thought about it," Caldwell says, "working for the CIA, particularly the kinds of jobs I wanted to do working as close to the field as possible ... you might have to leave and fly internationally on very short notice. It's not very compatible with law school."

Instead, Caldwell went to the University of Texas School of Law and started working at McKool Smith shortly after graduating in 2003.

A few years later he had a major role in a very large trial when a failed technology thrust him in the spotlight ahead of schedule. It was 4:30 p.m. and the legal team was getting ready to show some video clips. Caldwell was scheduled for a direct examination of a witness first thing the following morning. "I probably would have been nervous all night," he says.

But there was a technical glitch and the videos wouldn't play. McKool Smith principal Sam Baxter decided to send Caldwell up with his witness instead. "He leaned over the table at me and said, ‘Get up, boy,' in his great Texas drawl," Caldwell says.

It was Caldwell's first time calling someone to the witness stand in a trial, and it was a huge case—an infringement expert in a patent dispute on behalf of Minnesota-based medical technology company Medtronic. Caldwell questioned the expert about technical issues to determine whether another company's design improvements to its balloon catheters infringed on Medtronic's patents. Caldwell's knowledge of engineering was very important. Eventually the jury awarded Medtronic $250 million.

Caldwell says he didn't realize at first how in demand he could be as a lawyer with a math and science background. "It probably wasn't until I was three or four months into law school that I realized how lucky I was and how numerous the opportunities were," he says.

As much as he loved working for the CIA, he has no regrets.

"You just never know what sort of new thing you get to work on," he says. "It may be a medical device case one day and the next week it might be a telecommunications case. You work very long hours as a lawyer, but I don't even notice because it's so much fun."

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