Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

Career Paths: Alex Shoaf ’19L

Alex Shoaf spent six years working as a journalist in Nashville before coming to law school. He spent his summers working for the Knox County Public Defender and the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. He has been heavily involved in the Moot Court program and chaired the Moot Court Executive Board during his 3L year. He is also a student attorney in the Criminal Justice Clinic. He lives in Lexington with his wife, Christine, and his son, Henry.

Where will you be working after graduation and in what practice area?

I will be working as an attorney with the Colorado State Public Defender. The organization has twenty-one offices, so I could end up in the mountains, the desert, or somewhere in between.

Did you know coming into law school that you wanted to work in criminal defense?

Yes. I was doing completely different work before law school and had little interest in becoming a lawyer. My neighbor at the time was a public defender. I spent a week with him visiting clients in jail and observing proceedings in court. The experience opened my eyes to the inequities of the criminal justice system and the need for good attorneys like him. Within a few months, I was applying to law school exclusively to become a public defender.

What role did the size and location of the public defender’s office play in the search and decision process?

I targeted public defender’s offices that emphasize rigorous training of new hires and client-centered practice. The size and location were secondary, but being in Colorado is certainly a bonus.

Was there anything in your law school or summer job experience that confirmed this career choice?

I have spent both summers in public defender’s offices and my final year in the Criminal Justice Clinic. During this time, my clients have experienced a few small victories and plenty of crushing losses due in part to me. Both have motivated me to continue improving my skills and pursuing a career in indigent defense.

What classes do you think are helpful to take to prepare for this job?

Courses like Criminal Procedure are essential, but more seminars and experiential courses such as Professor’s Shapiro’s Criminal Practice Practicum are especially helpful as they give you real-life experience without real-life consequences.

Can you describe your job search process?

My 2L summer job was a great experience, but the office unfortunately was not hiring due to budgetary constraints. However, my former supervisors hosted brown bag lunches with other offices around the country. I was especially drawn to CSPD because the office has resources for clients, like investigators and social workers, that many offices lack. Also, new hires go through an extensive training before they ever appear from a judge and continue training as they progress from defending misdemeanors to felonies. I applied to CSPD, as well as several offices in my home state of Tennessee. After an informal call over the holiday break and a formal interview in January, I received an offer and happily accepted.

What are you most looking forward to about working at this job?

Working in the Criminal Justice Clinic has given me a taste of working as a public defender, but I have been handling only a few cases at a time as I have also been balancing my other law school obligations. I am looking forward to having a full caseload and beginning a career in indigent defense.