Carolyn Homer Thomas: Pursuing Your Passions

"After our quarterfinal match, the judges told my moot court partner Josh and me that our performance could have won in any circuit court in America."

Carolyn Homer Thomas, JD ’12, is just two years out of law school but has already accomplished two major legal goals: becoming a practicing intellectual property (IP) attorney and writing a Supreme Court brief on religion law.

On May 29, she filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League and other religious civil liberties organizations in the case Holt v. Hobbs. In March, when the Supreme Court granted a Muslim prisoner’s handwritten petition for certiorari, the case received national attention and Ms. Thomas knew she had the skills to get involved. With her firm’s permission, she contacted lead counsel and offered to help pro bono. The next thing she knew, she had been enlisted to write an amicus brief.

The fact that Ms. Thomas had such a grand and noble goal—and that it was accomplished so soon out of law school and in such a proactive manner—is not a surprise to anyone who knows her.

“I first encountered Carolyn Homer when she, with her moot court partner Joshua House, JD ‘12, made the final round of the 2011 National Religious Freedom Moot Court Competition (RFMC) here at GW Law,” says Ira “Chip” Lupu, the F. Elwood and Eleanor Davis Professor Emeritus of Law. “She was still a 2L, and had never studied religion or the constitution in law school. I marveled at the knowledge, enthusiasm, and poise she displayed.

“The RFMC is what made me realize I could be a real lawyer,” Ms. Thomas explains. “After our quarterfinal match, the judges told my moot court partner Josh and me that our performance could have won in any circuit court in America. That was the moment I realized that if I worked hard enough, I could actually be a successful lawyer—this wasn’t a game I was playing anymore.”

Just a few years later, Ms. Thomas filed a brief on the same topic with the nation’s highest court. According to Professor Lupu, her brief, filed on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League and several other groups, is “extremely well-researched and makes very important arguments about inconsistency in the treatment of prisoners’ religious claims in the lower federal courts.” To read the brief, visit: http://bit.ly/1nlBuq3. 

 Reflecting on her path to law school, Ms. Thomas says, “I never thought I wanted to be a lawyer. But during an internship one summer, I found myself checking the news every morning to see what Supreme Court decisions had come down, and then reading the full-text opinions for fun. I realized that if my idea of “fun” was reading legal opinions, then I should probably go to law school.”

Since many members of her family were engineers, and she had always been fascinated by tech news and legal fights, she decided to study intellectual property law. She chose GW Law in large part because of its excellent IP program and its location in the heart of the legal capital of America. 

During law school, she clerked for the Federal Trade Commission, working in the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection to investigate how various software and websites affected user privacy. Her most significant case forced a computer rental company to stop employing surreptitious methods to track late-paying customers without their consent. 

She had planned to stay in the D.C. area after graduation, but opted for the West Coast when her fiancé (now husband), Brian Thomas, accepted a job as a computer engineer in Silicon Valley, Calif. After graduating from GW Law, getting married, moving to California, and taking the bar in a single summer, Ms. Thomas landed a job as an intellectual property litigation associate with Quinn Emanuel LLP. She currently works on copyright, trade secret, and patent cases for both start-ups and major industry players.

Her advice for current students: Pursue your passions. “You’ll be a lot happier if you do something you love,” she says. “Staying up all night at work is completely worth it when you emotionally care about your clients, the subjects, and the end results.”

by Claire Duggan