February 12, 2018

Alumni Spotlight: Joe Mendoza Jr., Supervisory Special Agent, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

  Name:Joe Mendoza Jr.
  Job Title: Supervisory Special Agent, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  Drinker Biddle practice and years: Corporate and Securities Group, 2002-2004
  Education: Northwestern University, B.A. 1998; University of Wisconsin-Madison, J.D. 2002, M.A., Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies, 2002
  Hobbies, Family and Civic Activities: Joe lived in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and taught English for a year before law school. He speaks Spanish, Portuguese and some French.

Early in his FBI career, someone said two words to Joe Mendoza that have always stuck with him.

After eight–to–ten hours of an intense hostage negotiation, a kidnapped teenager was successfully recovered alive and well. The victim’s father came up to Joe to say “thank you.”

“It’s immeasurable, the power that those words had in that moment because someone basically said ‘Thank you for saving my child’s life,’” he said. “The power of those words will never be lost on me.”

Today, Joe is a Supervisory Special Agent with the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division and has been with the agency for 12 years. In his work as a Special Agent, he has handled criminal, terrorism and a variety of other investigations and has worked with countless local and international law enforcement agencies around the world. Joe is also a trained crisis negotiator, a stressful, high-paced role that requires working with law enforcement agencies on both the tactical and negotiation aspects of getting people to safety. On average, a crisis negotiation can last four–to–five hours and some kidnapping cases can take days or even months to resolve.

Born and raised in Chicago, Joe always knew he wanted to become a lawyer. After earning a master’s degree in Latin American studies concurrently with his juris doctor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, he joined Gardner Carton & Douglas in 2002. Joe was an associate in the Corporate and Securities Group and assisted clients with transactional matters such as managing hedge funds, securities work, stock purchase agreements and mergers and acquisitions. His memories from his time at the firm include learning from partners like Jesse Ruiz, who he saw as hard-working and meticulous about his work while balancing family obligations. Joe said he considers it a gold standard for job dedication that he strives to achieve in his own life. He is also proud of the firm’s pro bono work and remembers volunteering with Antonio DeBlasio at Saturday legal clinics.

In 2004, Joe left the firm to become an associate professor at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago, where he taught constitutional and criminal law, as well as Latin American Studies. It was during this time that his best friend, an FBI agent, convinced him to consider a career change and apply. Joe said he loved teaching and working with students but there was a part of him that wanted to do high-impact work outside of the classroom.

Public service is deeply entwined in his family, which includes many police officers, teachers and veterans dating back to World War II, so joining the FBI gave him an opportunity to follow suit and serve his country in a national security capacity. Joe said he enjoys working with a diverse group of people in a challenging, fast-paced environment that changes every day based on the circumstances that arise. With technology and strategies constantly evolving, criminals are also changing their tactics, he said, and it’s part of the FBI’s job to match that and be one step ahead.

The FBI is featured frequently in movies and crime television dramas, and friends and family often ask Joe if what they see on the big screen—actors investigating, traveling and solving complex cases in a matter of hours— is realistic to what actually happens on the job. Joe usually responds with a light-hearted, “Yup, it is exactly the same.” The fascination and folklore that has developed around the FBI in pop culture is mainly positive and pretty neat, he said, especially since there’s so much about his job that he cannot discuss publicly. There is one amusing comment he consistently receives when someone finds out he is an FBI agent.

 “They say, ‘You don’t look like an FBI agent.’ I think, well, what does THAT mean? I don’t know what that means,” he said with a laugh. “But that’s another great thing, the diversity this organization has. Our targets are very diverse and sophisticated and we need to be able to match and mirror that.”

This diversity among agents includes various interests and skillsets. Students often ask him what they should study in college to make it to the FBI and Joe’s advice is to “study what you love.” His colleagues have degrees in areas as varied as art, history, psychology, archaeology, finance, political science and anthropology. The FBI has a diverse and expansive mission so a broad range of knowledge and skillsets brings added value to the organization. The application process can take a few years, he said, so having patience and persistence is also important. It’s a rewarding career that’s well worth the wait and effort.

“I’m blessed to be part of this organization as a Special Agent and to be able to do what I do,” Joe said. “It’s tough sometimes because the public doesn’t get to see what we do on a day-to-day basis, but there are amazing people working here doing things behind the scenes, making a difference and making our country as safe as possible.”

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