Capitol Gains

School of Law students and alumni experience the value of the Washington, D.C. externship program.

While practicing in Washington, D.C., School of Law alumna Nancy Hunt (’01) recognized a gap in Pepperdine alumni representation in the federal government and related D.C. institutions. “The law school fosters rational thinking and that is something I thought we could certainly use more of in Washington,” she thought. Hunt signed on to help Pepperdine law students build connections to secure post-graduation jobs in the U.S. capital and, 18 months later, the School of Law Washington, D.C. externship program was brought to life.

Now in its second year, Professor Hunt coordinates the spring semester program, which provides students interested in careers in Washington, D.C. the opportunity to experience the local legal world, while demonstrating to employers their commitment to working in the hub of the U.S. federal government. “The Program offers unique opportunities for our students to work with federal agencies, public policy groups, lobbying and governmental relations organizations, and a host of other Washington-based legal settings,” says School of Law dean Deanell Tacha.

Nancy Hunt, program director (2nd row, right), with the students.

In addition to supporting students’ full-time externships, the D.C. program offers an externship seminar and an advanced legal writing course to complement the work students are doing in their placements. Area alumni, including the newly formed Alumni Advisory Committee, provide invaluable support to the D.C. program by mentoring students as they work their way into the D.C. legal market.

Next spring Pepperdine’s Washington, D.C. facility at 2011 Pennsylvania Avenue. will include graduate student apartments among its residential accommodations available to School of Law students in the program. In two semesters, the program has provided School of Law students myriad experiences that have shaped the course of their personal and professional future. Here are some of their stories.

Kyle Matous

Kyle Matous 3L

In 1999 13-year-old Kyle Matous watched, wide-eyed, as President Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearing was broadcast on CSPAN, attempting to understand the nuances of the trial and implications of the verdict. One year later Matous planted himself by the television to track the days-long Bush/Gore election. “My mom commented that I was probably the only kid in the country watching it,” he recalls. These defining moments, coupled with an innate interest in government and society, became emblazoned in the mind of the School of Law student currently completing an externship at the Institute for Justice (IJ). “I’m just passionate about the direction in which our country is and should be going,” Matous explains.

As a law clerk extern at the IJ, Matous has taken part in influential litigation that supports social-choice reform, private property rights, free speech, and the right to work. Most notably, Matous has worked with attorneys to argue for school vouchers issued by the government that give parents the ability to choose where to send their children to school. “Not only is it interesting litigation for the sake of the Constitution itself, but it’s also making an impact on these children’s lives, because they are going from failing public schools to thriving private and charter schools,” he explains.

For the third-year student, studying 100 hours for federal tax or wills and trusts did not give him enough leverage to propel his legal career. “Anyone who is interested in working in Washington, D.C. has to be in this program. If your passion is politics, you need to get here, you need to do this.”

Julia MacDonald 3L

Julia MacDonald

Most legal institutions in Washington, D.C. assume that if a student aspires to work in the U.S. capital, they attend law school there, a notion that Julia MacDonald found to be true when she worked in the city for Judge Ricardo Urbina last summer. “I knew that I wanted to end up here, but it’s very difficult to find jobs on the East Coast,” she explains, of the competitive edge the D.C. externship program gives students. “There are several law schools out here that feed people into jobs. Employers just don’t know very much about Pepperdine’s program yet.”

Originally interested in commercial banking, MacDonald pursued a business administration degree at Baylor University, but found herself unfulfilled after two years of working in the industry following graduation. “I was interested in trial work prior to going to law school, but was unaware of how little time most lawyers spend in the courtroom,” she recalls. MacDonald now attends court almost daily with Chief Judge Royce Lamberth as a legal extern, where she works on both civil and criminal cases. “I have learned a lot about the litigation process and different areas of the law that I maybe wouldn’t have been taking classes on,” she says.

MacDonald has come a long way from her former career in banking. “I wasn’t really doing anything that mattered or anything I was interested in doing, as opposed to what I’m doing now, where I really enjoy what I do and feel like I am making a difference.”

Kate Larson

Kate Larson 3L

In her first week as an extern for Heather Podesta + Partners, a leading democratic government relations firm, Kate Larson was tuned in to a conference call with President Obama just days before his State of the Union Address. “It was pretty amazing just to hear his voice on the other line and finally feel like I was part of something important,” Larson recalls of the call that also connected state and local governmental officials across the country.

The five-minute conversation with the president and his advisors was just one of the highlights of Larson’s D.C. experience. She also had the chance to attend a budget hearing on Capitol Hill, where she watched House members argue about payroll tax cuts and health care in the Ways and Means Committee. “Watching these very influential people argue and seeing the legislative process firsthand is unreal,” says the third-year law student, who discovered a thirst for politics at the age of 10 on a family trip to the capital. “I love history and the passion that people have for politics in D.C.”

At the firm, Larson was introduced to the world of lobbying, an industry she now finds “fascinating.” “Lobbyists are influencing governmental policy, instead of fighting for a party,” says Larson, who hopes to work for a committee on Capitol Hill after taking the California Bar Exam and, eventually, return to lobbying. “The greatest value of the D.C. program is perspective,” she reflects. “A career in law doesn’t necessarily have to be in litigation or at a big firm, it can be a lot of different things.”

John Yarbrough (JD ’11)

John Yarbrough

Alumnus John Yarbrough wanted experience out of the classroom and applied to several federal agency internships (including the IRS) before being accepted to the Law Student Observer Program for the office of mergers and acquisitions at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). “It literally set me on this path. If I hadn’t done this, I wouldn’t be where I am now. It put all the pieces into place,” says Yarbrough of his current position at Proskauer Rose, one of the largest law firms in the United States.

At the SEC, Yarbrough notably assisted with drafting letters for no-action process requests and helped senior special counsel redraft beneficial ownership rules that were required by Dodd‚ÄìFrank. “That was interesting to work on as far as the rulemaking side,” Yarbrough recalls. “It was something unique that you don’t get to do on the private side.”

Now at Proskauer, the associate attorney is armed with the ability to make suggestions and advise the firm whether the SEC will approve or deny submissions, an attribute Yarbrough suggests helped him get the prestigious job. “[Because of my internship] I know what goes on, so when I’m on the other side now, I know everyone in the office and can just make a call to say, ‘We’re trying to do this, we need this to go faster, what should we do about this?’ and that’s, of course, invaluable.”

Shannon Johnson

Shannon Johnson 3L

For Shannon Johnson, applying to the program was a strategic career move to establish stronger ties within the region and utilize her West Coast degree in an area saturated by East Coast talent. “I thought it might be a good move to go somewhere where my degree wasn’t the same as everybody else’s,” she explains.

After applying to a wide range of externship opportunities, Johnson was hired by the Department of Justice as an extern at the Office of the Pardon Attorney, which processes federal prisoner appeals for presidential pardons. “President Obama has granted one favorable sentence commutation this year,” explains Johnson, of the lengthy process. “I don’t think anything I’ve processed will reach the attorney general or president before I leave the office.” However, the Colorado native recognizes the impact that her experience has had on her knowledge of federal sentencing law.

Among the more technical aspects of the law, Johnson has learned valuable lessons that she will carry throughout her legal career. “Though you need to be competent, intelligent, and have legal understanding. It is also important to work well with other people, because you need to have strong relationships with the legal community,” she explains. Johnson is also passionate about the relationships she will build with her clients. “Everything I’ve encountered in the legal community has been about protecting someone’s rights and interests,” she says. “Real human lives are changed by lawyers and laws.”

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