The Law School Magazine The New York University School of Law

Making a Federal Case

As a federal prosecutor for the past 10 years, Samuel Buell (’92) speaks from practical experience—and as a supervisor and colleague of many recent Law School graduates. Buell was on special detail to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Enron Task Force from January 2002 to March 2004, commuting back and forth to his home in Boston where he had been serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Organized Crime Section. His victory in the Enron-related Arthur Andersen trial followed on a string of successes prosecuting violent drug gangs in Brooklyn and the notorious Winter Hill gang in Boston.

Buell came to the Law School thinking that he would use his law degree to go into government in some capacity, but with no idea of a specific path. He quickly became excited about criminal law in Professor James Jacobs’ first-year course with its orientation toward the law enforcement apparatus and the sociology of crime and punishment. “I found criminal law cases much more interesting than other areas of law,” Buell says. “Criminal law is the subject where the rubber meets the road in terms of government interaction with citizens.” He also studied criminal litigation with Professor Anthony Amsterdam, whose “lawyering” approach to the subject, with in-class simulations of criminal proceedings, paid off for Buell in practice. “The great strength of NYU’s criminal law program is how it strikes the optimal balance between theoretical grounding in the law and preparation to put it to use in practice,” he says.

After a summer interning at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, Buell was hooked. He spent four more years in the Eastern District after law school and still becomes animated talking about the Brooklyn federal courthouse, where he found a unique working culture fed by a steady diet of cases supplied by organized crime, drug gangs, and airport customs violators. Assigned to the district’s Violent Criminal Enterprises initiative, Buell and his colleagues pioneered using the RICO statute outside the organized crime context to attack drug-related gang violence.

But Buell says the nastiest courtroom battles he has fought occurred in Houston, when he found himself up against Arthur Andersen’s bulldog lead defense attorney, Rusty Hardin. Courtroom exchanges that the national press routinely described as “open warfare” were peppered with personal attacks on Buell as a “whiner” and “boy scout.” As Buell tries increasingly high-profile cases, he has received high marks for maintaining a professional demeanor in the face of “win at all costs” approaches. Buell recommends that no matter where you want to end up practicing law, start in New York City: “Once you’ve tried criminal cases in New York, you’ve passed the litmus test and you can get hired anywhere.”