This week in our series on life and careers after Pomona, we have the stories of alumni who went into the legal profession. The advice and experiences of these five Pomona grads and current attorneys could prove helpful for current students looking to work in law.
Christopher Young PO ’89 came to Pomona with little idea of what he wanted to do afterwards, but quickly realized that, unlike most of his hall-mates, the science track wasn’t for him. Young majored in history, gradually deciding—just around the time he had to sign up for the LSAT law-school entrance examination—to go straight to law school after Pomona.
“Once you’re in law school, you’re into the career, pretty much,” said Young. He explained the process: “Right after your first year, you interview with a bunch of law firms that usually come onto campus, and then one of those firms gives you an offer to go there the summer after your second year…. If it works out, you get an offer of permanent employment during your third year of law school, and then after you graduate, that summer you would take the bar exam and then go start work at your firm.”
Young has been at the same firm in San Diego for his whole career, which is somewhat unusual these days, defending companies against lawsuits, largely in the drug and pharmaceutical areas.
“There is no major and no specific classes that anyone needs to take before going to law school,” said Young. “I think the most helpful skills I learned were things like critical thinking…really good writing skills…problem-solving skills, and analytical skills.”
“I always wanted to be a lawyer,” said Alice Curran PO ’89. “So I think I chose courses that I thought would help me achieve that goal.” Curran was a politics, philosophy, and economics major with an emphasis on politics and philosophy because she “thought that major would help with my analytical and writing skills.”
Speaking with respect to Pomona’s influence on her preparation for law, Curran said, “I also participated in the 5-C speech and debate team for all four years I was at Pomona. That public speaking experience has made me a much more confident and effective speaker—both in small and large groups.”
Curran also went straight into law school without a break; she made law review and undertook a clerkship at the Department of Justice, gaining some “significant in-court experience that young attorneys crave and need but rarely get.”
Curran works in a niche area, advising drug companies on how to calculate and report pricing to comply with federal data reporting laws. “If you want to be a lawyer,” she said, “you have to be a good, clear, and analytical writer—I still remember [now Emeritus] Professor Palmer’s critique on my use of a gerund in first writing assignment for Intro to Macroecomonics—so work, work, work on that.”
“I was a biology major at Pomona,” said Diana Pereira PO ’99. “During my junior year I became interested in legislation related to the conservation of ecosystems. I also realized that I did not enjoy being in the lab, or the field for that matter.” She took the LSAT, but unlike Young and Curran, she took a few years off and went to work for a Kaplan learning program after graduating. “After two years of working, and with the threat of my LSAT score expiring, I applied to law school.”
As for advice, Pereira offered the following: “Take some time to really think about what it is within the law that interests you, and see if you can intern in a position that would expose you to that type of environment and work. For example, if you do not feel comfortable going to a jail to visit someone with an unsavory criminal record, then criminal defense may not be for you!”
Antoinette Hewitt PO ’92 was an anthropology major who decided to go to law school while she was a sophomore. To get a feel for the field, she said, “I tried to get in touch with Pomona alums who went into law, and they were kind enough to give me their time and talk to me about it. They all reinforced, as well, that you didn’t need to be a government or political science major to go to law school, you just needed a wide range and background.”
For Hewitt, law school was overwhelming: “It hits you all at once, because you learn a lot of different things that you didn’t really realize were so significant…. You’re confronted with how we are totally a nation of laws, and a system of laws.”
At first interning in legal aid, Hewitt moved through several types of law—including practicing tax law and family law in Claremont for a few years—before finally settling down in Orange County. She eventually decided on commercial litigation and transactional work, “which is so far from what I did when I first got out of law school. Sometimes it takes you time to find your bearings.”
Hewitt notes that this workplace can be challenging for those who want to settle down and have a family, because of the long, sometimes unpredictable hours and intermittent moves between firms and jobs.
“One of the key things I got from Pomona is a sense of other people’s perspectives,” said Hewitt. “How everybody is really unique and brilliant in their own way.” She also felt that she learned how to interact and get along well with people.
John Lowenthal PO ’82 was interested in law before coming to Pomona. “Pomona’s small classes, which create both an opportunity for and inability to escape from actively participating in your education, are good preparation for law school,” he said.
Lowenthal’s post-Pomona story might be of interest to those who are worried about being accepted at the graduate school of their choice: “I was more interested in and devoted more time to pursuits other than academics, and as a result was not accepted at a law school I wanted to attend. I took advice from a Dean of Admissions who interviewed me and resolved to spend a year working in order to demonstrate discipline, responsibility and commitment, [and] then reapply. I had an opportunity right out of college to teach, so I took a job as an elementary school teacher. Three months later I was driving home from work and heard a radio ad telling the listeners there was still time to apply for the fall semester at the University of La Verne College of Law. I called the next morning, interviewed with the Dean the next afternoon and a few days later I was a law student.”
“Don’t be afraid to think,” said Lowenthal, “and have the courage and ability to express what you think clearly and unequivocally. When I interview new lawyers I look for smarts and courage; I can teach them everything else, but those things you either have or you don’t.”