A.B. Culvahouse – Reagan's former counsel

5 minutes with... A.B. Culvahouse

When did you decide to become a lawyer? Why? 

After my first year in college as an agriculture major, I realized that our family farm was not suited for modern farming. My uncle, the sole lawyer in my home county, encouraged me to study law.

Starting out, what did you expect from a career in the law?

I hoped that practicing law would serve as a platform for making a positive difference in my home state. In other words, I hoped to be elected to political office.

How did you get into the areas of law you are known for today? By design? Chance? Both?

By chance. I was slated to clerk for a federal judge after law school graduation. Out of the blue, I was asked to become Senator Howard Baker’s Chief Legislative Assistant. My first day on the job, I sat behind him at the Senate Watergate Hearings.

What do you consider to have been your big break?

In 1987, when President Reagan asked Senator Baker to become White House Chief of Staff, Howard agreed upon the condition that I be appointed White House Counsel. It was a complete surprise.

AB CulvahouseWhat differences do you see in today's legal market compared to when you started?

Too many law school graduates for the good public and private sector jobs available. The focus on financial results is forcing rapid change in law firm business models as practice specialties become fee-sensitive.

What achievement are you most proud of? 

Advising President Reagan in successfully navigating his way through the Iran-Contra investigations.

What do you consider your greatest failure or regret?

The failure of Judge Bork to be confirmed to the Supreme Court. Those of us tasked to assist him did not perceive that we were in a political knife fight instead of a dignified confirmation process until too late.

"Suit up and show up — with confidence."

What law would you change, abolish or create? 

I would give the President line-item veto authority.

Who is your legal hero? 

My late senior partner, Warren Christopher, one of the great statesman lawyers.

What career would you have in your second life? 

I would work for the CIA.

What slogan would you like to be remembered by? 

He had “safe hands”.

What advice would you give to students trying to enter the legal profession today? And secondly, to those who hope to ultimately get into the areas of law in which you are expert?

Suit up and show up — with confidence. Become known in the legal community and the public arena as a good lawyer, while positioning yourself to become involved in investigating the next big scandal.