"When I started law school, I'd been out of college for 11 years - so it was quite an adjustment coming back, even coming back part time. I appreciated the intro with the Summer Enrichment program, because I could slowly adjust to being in school again and to having homework."
Name: Amanda Thom
Hometown: Fayston, Vermont (but I've been in San Diego 10 years now)
Undergrad Degree: BA in German, 2005, University of Vermont
Dream Job: Supreme Court Justice
Q & A
When did you decide to pursue a law degree? What is some of your previous professional experience, and how did that experience help you decide to go to law school?
I came to law school after spending seven years doing quasi-law enforcement - Animal Control and Code Enforcement. After working for San Diego County for a while, I realized I enjoyed government service but felt like I could do more. While at Animal Control, I realized that there are many nuances in animal-related laws and crimes that are not understood by many district attorneys because of how frequently they're prosecuting other cases. I have a heart for prosecuting animal-related offenses, and I can't imagine a better place to be than in the District Attorney's office.
What's the main reason you chose to attend California Western School of Law?
I knew I was going to stay within San Diego (my husband is born and raised here), so I had a couple of choices for schools. I chose Cal Western because I love the hands-on learning opportunities offered here - from STEPPS to internships to the legal clinics. I learn best by doing hands-on work, so I know this is an important aspect to my legal education. I also really appreciate the supportive atmosphere and when I toured here I could see how much faculty and staff really appreciate and want to help all the students succeed.
How hard is law school? Is it more or less work than you thought?
Law school is exactly as much work as I thought it would be. I'm not going to lie, it's a TON of work and it is hard, but there are so many opportunities to get extra help to make sure you succeed here that I know everyone has a fair opportunity. On top of that, I'm also a full-time mom of an infant, so I have to juggle a lot at home in addition to juggling everything I'm learning in class.
The first year is the hardest, because you're still learning how to read and brief cases, what the reasoning is within cases, how judges (well, clerks really) write opinions, etc. Often you're reading a case several times before you really understand it. It's also REALLY important to attend every class and PAY ATTENTION! I forced myself to sit in front, as much as I hate being at the front of the class, because I knew it would force me to pay attention to what the professors are saying. I think it's really important to know what you need to succeed, and pursue that. Some students work best with study groups, going over things you've learned in class. Others (like myself) study better individually - I just get distracted and wind up socializing when I try to study with other people, so I primarily do my work and review stuff by myself.
What academic programs have been most beneficial to you as a law student? What student activities do you participate in at California Western?
One of the biggest programs I appreciated here was Summer Enrichment. When I started law school, I'd been out of college for 11 years - so it was quite an adjustment coming back, even part time. I appreciated the intro with Summer Enrichment, because I could slowly adjust to being in school again and to having homework. To be honest, I haven't participated in a lot of the programs here, because I haven't felt like I needed them—like large- and small-group tutoring that is offered to students. I do go to professors' office hours when I have certain questions, but primarily I make sure that my homework is done in advance, that I brief all the cases that we read, and that I outline before finals. That for me has been a big factor to my success; I realized I can't breeze through law school without doing all the work like I did in undergrad.
Similarly, I don't participate in a huge number of student activities. I'm a student ambassador, and I am part of the Parents in Law School society. I'm also on the Barrister's Ball Committee for next year! Because I spent my first trimester working full time and pregnant, I didn't have a lot of time to get involved—and my second trimester has been over the summer, when a lot of student organizations are less active.
What advice would you give to a new law student? What would you have done differently if given the chance?
To a new student, I'd really say to focus on your work the first year, and get more involved in everything else that's available your second year. Your first-year grades are what are most important for your future internships—especially first trimester—so it's so important to make sure you work as hard as you can. There are so many opportunities for help if you need it, and I think that's the other thing; it's completely fine to reach out and get extra help. It's up to you to succeed, but everyone here is willing to help you get there.
Meet Me On Campus
Click the button below to schedule a campus tour, and be sure to include my name—Amanda Thom—in the preferences field so I can show you around!