Richard Burke(right) stands with former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff.
When Richard Burke JD ’97 was a judge advocate in the Marine Corps, he lived for the excitement of trials. Now the director of the plans division in the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Operations Coordination, Burke is getting job satisfaction in a decidedly different manner: leading the development of national contingency plans for potential terrorist attacks and natural disasters.
“We’ve built an operational planning system in DHS that is now being utilized by all of the departments and agencies in the federal family,” says Burke. “It’s essentially been a government start-up effort, which has made it simultaneously challenging and rewarding.”
After graduating from Colgate University in 1992, Burke held several jobs, including a yearlong stint as a professional football player in Europe. After suffering a serious knee injury, he came to Suffolk Law, where as a student he participated in the voluntary Prosecutor Program and the Suffolk Transnational Law Review. He also continued a family tradition by joining the Marine Corps in his first semester.
“I come from a family where public service and military service are held in high regard,” he says. “Being a Marine was an experience I didn’t want to miss out on.” While at Suffolk Law, Burke also met his future wife, Jacqueline Bussière Burke JD ’97, who worked in private practice and as an assistant U.S. attorney in New Hampshire and Washington, D.C., before launching a successful jewelry design business, jbb jewels. Today they have four children ranging from 7 years to 4 months.
Burke loved his first job after law school: Marine Corps JAG. “I was in court trying cases all the time and traveled extensively,” he says. The realization that a pending promotion meant ascending to a management position and less trial work spurred his next move. He left the Pentagon on September 1, 2001, and took a job in Boston as a litigator with Cooley Manion Jones LLP.
Ten days later, his plans changed.
“I really enjoyed working at Cooley Manion Jones and was fortunate to work with great people, but 9/11 changed the long-term direction I wanted to go in,” says Burke. “The country was awakened to the impact of global terrorism, and I wanted to contribute to fighting it.” Burke initially joined a Marine reserve unit as a logistics officer and was later recalled to active duty for one year and deployed to the Philippines. After returning home, he worked at Cooley Manion Jones again for a short time before accepting a position coordinating the production of the report The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned, DHS’s after-action assessment of the federal response to the storm. He’s been with DHS ever since.
Burke often jokingly refers to himself as a “recovering lawyer,” but in more serious moments extols the far-ranging skills afforded him by his alma mater and former legal career. “I never imagined I wouldn’t be practicing law,” says Burke, “but not a day goes by that I don’t rely on many of the advocacy and trial practice skills I honed at Suffolk Law and as an attorney. Now my client isn’t a plaintiff or a defendant, it’s my country and the Department of Homeland Security.”
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