Career Paths: Alicia Ochsner Utt ’23L After graduation, Alicia Ochsner Utt will be working at the King County Department of Public Defense in Seattle, Washington.
Alicia Ochsner Utt ‘23L is from Seattle, Washington. She attended Tulane University, where she received a B.A. in Political Science, and the University of Washington, where she received an M.A. in International Studies. Before law school, she worked at the King County Department of Public Defense in Seattle, Washington. She spent her 1L summer at the Staunton and Lexington Public Defender’s Office and returned to the King County Department of Public Defense for her 2L summer. At W&L, she is the Editor in Chief of the W&L Law Review and a Mock Trial Co-Chair on the Moot Court Executive Board. Alicia lives in Lexington with her husband, Steven, and their cat, Little Bud.
Where will you be working after graduation and in what practice area?
I will be working at the King County Department of Public Defense (DPD) in Seattle, Washington. Incoming public defenders usually start with misdemeanors, but there is a lot of opportunity to move around in different practice areas, including felonies, juvenile defense, family defense (dependency cases), involuntary commitment (mental illness), and contempt of court.
Did you know coming into law school that you wanted to be a public defender?
Yes, and I knew that I wanted to go back to Seattle! I actually started working at DPD right after I took the LSAT, so I was already preparing to go to law school when I really became immersed in public defense. I had previously been working as a court clerk at King County Superior Court, where I had been able to see the public-facing side of DPD’s work, but being a part of DPD honestly changed my life and solidified what I wanted to do with the law degree I had decided to pursue.
Was there anything in your law school or summer job experience that confirmed this career choice?
Even when I wasn’t sure whether I was cut out for public defense, all of my law school and summer job experiences confirmed that it was the right thing to do. From working alongside passionate and determined public defenders on opposite sides of the country to long conversations with professors about what it means to be a part of the criminal legal system, I kept hearing “yes!” every time.
What classes do you think are helpful to prepare for this job?
Practically, some of the most helpful classes that I took during law school were Constitutional Law and Criminal Law during my 1L year; Criminal Procedure (both Investigation in the fall and Adjudication in the Spring) and Immigration Law during my 2L year; and Poverty Law, Family Law, and a seminar on child abuse and neglect during my 3L year. These classes were great because they’re teaching you what the law is and how it applies to some situations that you might end up facing in public defense.
I was also able to work on building practical skills, even starting in 1L. Legal Research and Legal Writing taught me how to approach legal questions like a lawyer, which has been a huge key to success for me. During my 2L and 3L years, I took the Trial Advocacy and Negotiations Practicums to start getting hands-on practice in doing the actual work of litigation. In the spring of my 2L year, I externed with the Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Virginia, which allowed me to learn what public defense at the federal level was like. This semester, the spring of my 3L year, I am in the Rights of Prisoners Practicum, where I am able to represent an incarcerated person in applying for parole.
Public defense is also really interesting in that you can take concepts and ideas from a lot of different classes—even classes that aren’t about criminal law!—and apply them to your work or your thinking about the criminal legal system. In my 2L year, I took a seminar on the Fourth Amendment and technology that started me thinking about the problems and opportunities that developing technology will pose for public defenders. In my 3L year, I took Statutory Interpretation and Federal Jurisdiction & Procedure, both of which are excellent and thought-provoking classes that might not directly apply to public defense but definitely exposed me to concepts and ideas that shape how I think about the work.
Can you describe the job search process?
I’m probably not the best example of this—the only public defender’s office I applied to for a post‑graduate position was DPD, because I was so determined to go back to Seattle after law school! But applying for public defense positions is a lot like applying for other legal jobs, at least at first. Most offices want a cover letter, resume, and writing sample. When you start interviewing, though, you need to be prepared for intensive and in-depth hypotheticals that can range from analyzing a recent court decision and applying its holding to a similar situation, creating a trial strategy from scratch, or making difficult calls about professional conduct and ethics. Practice interviews with OCS and Rachford fellows can be a great way to feel more comfortable with the kind of questions asked at interviews for positions in public defense.
What are you most looking forward to about this job?
I am so excited to get back to Seattle! It was so hard to leave after my 2L summer—I really felt like I was doing meaningful work in defending the rights of the most vulnerable members of my community, and I am looking forward to returning to that.
Outside Law School
Knitting, reading, walking on the Back Campus trails, listening to podcasts, video games.
Favorite Location in Lexington/W&L Campus
The little study nook across from the Mock Trial Room gets the best morning sun!
Advice for Prospective Law Student
Visit Lexington if you get the chance! Not only will it give you an opportunity to see what it’s like to be in a small town if you’ve never experienced it, but you can meet students and faculty and get a sense of the campus community, as well. Visiting Lexington was what sold me on W&L.
Something you will miss at W&L Law
The amazing faculty, who are dedicated to their students’ success and willing to go out of their way to help you achieve your goals.
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