Career Profiles

Ryan Thomason ‘17

Law Student Extern, Norwalk Self-Help Center
Law Clerk, Orange County District Attorney’s Office

Ryan Thomason ‘17

Where did you extern?
I externed over the summer of 2015 at the Los Angeles County Superior Court House Norwalk Self-Help Center and during the fall semester of 2015 I externed at the Orange County District Attorney’s Office at the Harbor Justice Center located in Newport Beach.

What did you do during your externship? Can you give an example of a project you worked on?
While working at the Norwalk Self Help Center we assisted self-represented litigants with family law matters. I would run workshops on the process of filling out divorce paperwork as well as paperwork that established visitation and custody rights for litigants. While at the Orange County District Attorney’s Office I did a lot of research for the office as well as writing various memos and motions. It was a great place to really use my legal writing skills which I felt needed a lot of work. Just getting out there and writing helped a great deal because the issues you were focusing on changed and you received held and guidance from the attorneys who supervised you.

What excited you the most about the position?
Working at the Norwalk Self-Help Center it was helping people. One of the reasons why I wanted to be an attorney was to help people who did not have access to the legal field because they were unable to afford it. The people who sought help at the Norwalk Self-Help Center were people who could not afford an attorney. It made me realize that though my first year as a law student was hard I was pushing towards my goal and it helped me remember why I came to Whittier Law School in the first place.

While working at the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, what excited me the most was doing legal research and writing. Legal writing is my perceived weakest skill, so this externship helped me to dive right in and start doing it. The more you do something the less nervous you feel about the work product and the more confident you become in your ability.

How did you learn about the position?
Both positions I learned about through the Spring OCR. I applied for five different positions and I received several offers. I was pleased to accept the Norwalk Self-Help Center for the summer as well as the Orange County District Attorney’s Office for the fall semester. Ms. Dickman was a great help in letting me know that I should consider both opportunities for the experience each would give me and the connections I would make networking. The Office of Career and Professional Development is a great resource for Whittier students.

How did your education and experience here at Whittier Law prepare you for your externship?
I believe my extensive experience working in customer service helped get me the position at the Norwalk Self-Help Center. I have worked in the customer service field for ten plus years and the experience of dealing with the public is invaluable especially when working in a legal self-help center.

I believe my enthusiasm to work with the District Attorney’s Office and the fact I was being interviewed by a Whittier Alum made all the difference for my fall semester externship. I didn’t have any specific legal experience even after my first year, but it was my willingness to try something new and the fact that Whittier has some great alumni out there that are willing to give a Whittier student the edge they need to get ahead in the legal world.

What advice do you have for other students thinking about externing for this employer or going into this field of practice?
If you are interested in family law, and want to get hands on experience dealing face to face with litigants, I highly recommend applying to work for the Los Angeles County Superior Court Self-Help Center located at the Norwalk Courthouse. One of the two supervising attorneys is a Whittier alum and you learn so much that by the time you are done you will be confident in assisting litigants with starting a divorce as well as custody and visitation proceedings. You will also learn how to help litigants prepare defenses for being evicted as they also do unlawful detainer workshops. More importantly, you may, like I did, find the reason why you came to law school. Your 1L year can be hard and sometimes you wonder why you came to law school, but this opportunity helped me rediscover my passion for helping people. It can give you the experience you need to move on to additional intern/externships. Today I was notified that I was selected to extern under a family law judge for Orange County Superior court and I firmly believe my experience with the Norwalk Self-Help Center played a key part in helping me secure that position.

If you are interested in going into the District Attorney’s Office I highly recommend you try to get into one of the units that are offering externships. It is a great place to see how criminal law works and you will meet a great group of attorneys who always want to help you succeed. One of the things I really appreciated while working at the OCDA was the enthusiasm the staff had for law clerks. Yes you will be doing a lot of research work, but it is a great place to hone those skills, especially if you feel they are your weak points. I’d recommend that everyone do it because you might find that you like the atmosphere and want to pursue it.