Taking the Initiative

Vanderbilt's new Public Service Initiative enables recent graduates to gain work experience while working in the public interest.

Rita Thomas
Rita Thomas '09
U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy
Southern District of Texas

Rita Thomas used the Public Service Initiative to accomplish two goals: serve as a judicial clerk and work in a corporate or business litigation practice. At the urging of Associate Dean Susan Kay, Thomas sent a letter explaining the Public Service Initiative to several judges in the Southern District of Texas, where she wanted to work, offering to serve as a clerk in their chambers for up to six months after she took the Texas bar examination in August 2009. U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy accepted Thomas as a clerk, and Thomas started work in Judge Stacy's chambers in September 2009.

The fact that the Public Service Initiative is part-time—the stipend funds 20 hours of work each week to allow graduates to gain experience and focus on their job search—also helped Thomas land a full-time job with a local attorney. Two weeks before Thomas was to take the bar exam, Judge Stacy contacted her to ask if she might also be interested in working part-time for her husband, Chris Stacy. Stacy is vice president and general counsel of Mining Oil, Inc., an oil production company he formed with several partners in 2007, and he also maintains a law practice. He needed an attorney to specialize in collections for his client, a major oil field products and services supply company. "Judge Stacy suggested he interview me since my clerkship was only 20 hours a week," Thomas said. "One purpose of the Public Service Initiative is to help us make contacts, and in my case, that really worked."

When Thomas' Public Service clerkship ended in February 2010, Chris Stacy asked her to join his legal practice full-time; she continues to focus on collections and business litigation work. "The collections cases we handle are not typical," she said. "The business and bankruptcy courses I took have been very helpful."

“One purpose of the Public Service Initiative is to help us make contacts, and in my case, that really worked”

Thomas earned the Law and Business Certificate along with her J.D. with a goal of joining a corporate practice or business litigation group. After spending a rewarding summer after her first year of law school working for Judge Mark Davidson, a civil court judge in Houston, she knew she wanted to spend time working in judicial chambers after graduation, and that she preferred working in a more intimate environment. "My clerkship with Judge Stacy was a great experience, and I also really like the work I'm doing for Chris Stacy and the environment here," Thomas said. "We have a small office of eight people. I'm doing interesting work, and I've learned a tremendous amount. Judge Stacy and Mr. Stacy are both excellent lawyers and friendly people. I am so fortunate to be able to work with and learn from both of them."

Thomas found it particularly affirming to be hired full-time based on her solid performance during the period while she worked part-time for Stacy. "Another purpose the Public Service Initiative achieved was that it gave me an opportunity to show the quality of work I can do," she said. "The legal job market in Houston is still less than ideal. Vanderbilt helped me get out there, gain experience and make contacts, and that made a big difference."

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