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Career Paths: Kit Thomas ’18L

Kit Thomas ’18L spent her summer at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, a non-profit trial level death penalty organization located in New Orleans, Louisiana. She is a graduate of Centre College and is interested in a career in capital defense and criminal justice.

kitthomasprofile Career Paths: Kit Thomas '18LKit Thomas ’18L

What did you do for work this summer?

This summer I worked at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, a non-profit trial level death penalty organization located in New Orleans, Louisiana.

How did you find/get this position?

I found out about LCAC from Professor Shapiro. I essentially went to Professor Shapiro’s office to introduce myself and to let him know about my interest in death penalty work, but I left with contact information for his daughter who is an attorney for LCAC in their Shreveport office. I spoke on the phone with Meghan Shapiro about my motivations and interest in the death penalty and at the end of the conversation she offered me a summer position.

Describe your work experience.

My work experience included a number of tasks and responsibilities. Each intern was assigned to a case that LCAC is currently working on as well as to a project the office was hoping to accomplish over the summer. I was assigned to a federal habeas death penalty case and a project, which required me to organize and orchestrate an in-house training on a particularized method of voir dire used by capital defense attorneys. With regard to my case, I was assigned numerous legal research tasks, including finding requirements to prove ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to mitigate and fees for Freedom of Information Act requests. I also had the opportunity to participate in a client welfare project, which allowed me to find, purchase, and ship items to our clients at Louisiana’s State Penitentiary (Angola). Additionally, I was able to travel to Angola to visit a number of clients and to discuss their cases.

What were some skills you developed this summer?

I found it difficult to begin a legal job after spending months reading case law and trying to figure out how to use legal search engines. During my summer job I gained a better understanding of how to craft a legal question and what to look for when trying to answer that question. Although courses during law school can help to prepare you for what is expected of you during a job, nothing teaches you better than being thrown a question and spending hours pouring over case law to try to figure out an answer. Coming away from my time at LCAC I feel more confident and competent with regard to my ability to conduct legal research and come to a succinct conclusion.

What classes or experiences were useful in preparing you for the summer work?

A general interest in death penalty work and a strong interest in criminal defense work are certainly necessary to engage in this summer work. Criminal law was definitely the most useful course with regard to subject matter, but my legal research course gave me the background necessary to begin my research tasks at LCAC.

What surprised you about the work you did this summer?

I was surprised at the severe funding crisis that Louisiana capital defense attorneys have to deal with on a daily basis. Disclaimer: This may be an across the board experience for capital defense attorneys, but I can only attest to the situation in New Orleans. The funding cuts leave offices without a number of the resources that law firms have at their disposal, as well as being utterly under-staffed. I find this the most surprising because it is the legal work that deals with life or death, the most severe legal consequence imaginable; it’s hard to believe that a legal field that is so important deals with such terrible funding problems.

What was your favorite aspect of this summer work experience?

I loved everything about my job, but what I enjoyed most was being surrounded by fiercely intelligent lawyers who were passionate about their work in a way that I had never experienced. I find it easier to picture myself as a capital defense attorney because I have seen the career in action. The position may entail grueling hours, funding shortages, and frustrating decisions, but it also entails the most rewarding victories, compassionate individuals, and a tremendously important cause.

Has this experience helped you figure out post graduate plans, and if so, how?

My time at LCAC easily reaffirmed my interest in being a capital defense attorney. Because capital defense work is such a niche area of the law, I don’t think that working at anything other than a capital defense office can give you a feel for what such a job would look like. I am glad to have had a chance to see the work on a day-to-day basis and to know that a trial level capital defense position would be something I could see myself doing long term.

How do you think this experience will shape the rest of your time at W&L Law?

My summer experience has only further focused my interest in doing capital defense work, which helps to give direction to my time at W&L. As a result of my job at LCAC, I have made a number of contacts in the criminal defense world that I believe will help further my career goals. For example, I am going to spend time during this academic year working for a lawyer I met this summer prepare for two upcoming capital trials that his non-profit capital defense office is handling. In addition, it gave me a sense of familiarity with death penalty case law such that I feel comfortable entering my 2L year enrolled in criminal procedure, death penalty, as well as VC3.