I caught up with Josh by GChat on February 28, 2012.
PSC: Hi Josh, thanks for chatting with us. You've been working as an assistant commonwealth's attorney in Arlington since this winter. Did you ever think in law school that you'd be a prosecutor one day?
Josh: I went to law school because I wanted to be a prosecutor. However, like a number of people, I got slightly sidetracked. After law school I headed to New York to do the Big Law thing at Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft.
PSC: How do you like your work so far?
Josh: The truth is, I love my job. And I feel so blessed to have been given the opportunity to work in the Arlington County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office. It's like a dream come true.
PSC: That's great to hear. So once you decided to make a career change and leave the firm to become a prosecutor, I know you started networking. What was the first thing you did?
Josh: I quit my job in May and immediately began drawing up a list of every possible person I knew who either was a prosecutor in VA or might know a prosecutor in VA. And obviously I started with my prosecution clinic professors Richard Moore and Ron Huber. I also reached out to Dean Jeffries, who I worked for during my 1L summer.
PSC: Sounds scary! How did you approach your clinic professors - "hey I need a job?" How did it feel doing that?
Josh: My first step was to email them and let them know what I had been doing since graduation. I also mentioned that I would be down in C’ville and would really like to buy them a bite or a pint. The idea was to get in front of them and start picking their brain. Everyone knows someone. And people feel more invested when you take the time to meet them face to face. That's not to say I didn't use phone calls, but anytime I could, I would drive to them and buy them a sandwich or a beer. And to answer the next question: yes, that did mean I did more than a few day trips all around the state, since I live in Fairfax Station. As for how I felt, well, I had just quit a perfectly good job in a perfectly terrible economy, so I was pretty motivated
PSC: Motivated is a good way of putting it. When you met with each person or talked on the phone, did you have some kind of plan going into it - some points you wanted to get across or questions to ask - or did you wing it?
Josh: I definitely did not wing it. There were two things I wanted to convey to every person I met or spoke with. First, that I was incredibly passionate about working as a state prosecutor, and second, that I was committed to doing whatever it took to put myself in the best position to get one of these jobs. The idea was to convince the person that if they gave me a chance, if they just opened that door a crack, then I would do the rest. I also had to get used to making "the ask." Most of the time, the person would volunteer a name or leave me with an idea. But, when they didn't, I would force myself to ask for any leads they might have. The other thing that I always tried to convey was that I was the type of person they would want to have as a prosecutor. I think that's really important, because you aren't going to help someone become a prosecutor just because you went to the same school or you think they will take the ball and run with it. Really, you help someone get one of these jobs because, ultimately, you think they would do the job well.
Josh: Never. I would say that was partially because UVA alumni really do like helping fellow alums, and partially because I always tried to have a connection to whomever I was reaching out to - no matter how tenuous it might be. That's what I was talking about earlier. By “making the ask” sometimes that meant asking for them to make a call, write an email, or even shoot a text and give some person a head’s up that some random guy named Josh Katcher might be reaching out to them.
PSC: So how did you get from your first round of networking meetings to actually "getting your foot in the door" at Arlington?
Josh: It's actually pretty absurd in hindsight. The first meeting was with Rick Moore. He is one of the prosecution clinic professors and an ACA in Orange County. When I told him I was interested in working in NOVA, he mentioned I should connect with Elliott Casey, because Elliott worked in both the Arlington and Alexandria CA offices at one time. But, Elliott now lives and works in C'ville as an ACA. So I headed back down to UVA and spent a nice coffee break chatting up Elliott. Elliott, in turn, mentioned that I should reach out to two CAs: Margaret Eastman in Arlington and Bryan Porter in Alexandria. So I then set up a meeting with each of them and implored them to let me come work for them for free in any capacity. Whether it was because I was so incessant in my requests or seemed sufficiently desperate, I will never know. But both offered to let me help out, for free, on some of their cases a few days a week, and so I started working 3 days a week in Arlington and 2 days a week in Alexandria.
PSC: And in the meantime, I know from talking with Elliott that he emailed one of the attorneys in Arlington about you and that attorney asked him what he thought of you. He gave you a big thumb’s up. So how long did it take from your first round of networking until you got an actual job offer from Arlington?
Josh: I think my first real, in-person effort occurred in June and I received the job offer the last week of January.
PSC: Networking can feel like a waste of time, especially since the first person you meet almost never has the power to give you the job you want. What advice do you have for students about the relative investment of time versus the payoff?
Josh: First off, always be networking. A lot of people mistake constantly networking as egotistical or somehow selfish. That couldn't be further from the truth if you approach it as a two way street. Second, you never know where meeting new people will lead. Trust me, I get it. I am just as inclined to sit at home in my sweatpants, eating junk food, and creating lists of things I should be doing. But you just have to get out there. What's the worst that's going to happen? And the most important advice I can give is to know WHAT you want, WHY you want it, and HOW hard you are willing to work for it. I think that passion will come through in discussions with others. You will be able to talk intelligently about why you want whatever you are seeking. And when you get down and out about not having what you want, the "how far" part will give you the inspiration to carry on.
PSC: I personally have a hard time making the "ask," as you put it, and I know a lot of people do because they're self-conscious and feel a bit phony. Any tips for them?
Josh: Most of the people you talk to understand. They have probably been there themselves. For some reason I always imagined asking them "hasn't anyone ever taken a chance on you?" I don't think I actually ever said that to someone, but thinking it made me realize that they probably, at one point or another, had been in a similar place and thus could empathize. And that helped me get over that queasy feeling you get when you flat-out ask someone you barely know to help.
PSC: Great advice. Josh, this has been wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing some of your experiences with us.
Josh: My pleasure, and I really would like to thank all the UVA alums who took a chance on me. I wouldn't have landed my dream job without them. Specifically, I would like to thank Rick Moore, Ron Huber, Elliott Casey, Margaret Eastman, and Bryan Porter. Without them, I would have never landed my dream job.