Teresa Souto launched her career as a deputy district attorney in Santa Clara County, California, through skill, determination, and networking. Immersing herself in Colorado Law’s experiential learning environment and forming relationships along the way, she developed the qualities necessary to impress her employer. She draws upon these attributes daily as she advocates for the people of California.
Tell us a little about your work. What do you do, and what might a “typical” work day look like?
I am a deputy district attorney for the District Attorney’s Office in Santa Clara County, California. I am a felony trial prosecutor currently assigned to the narcotics unit. I prosecute primarily drug sales cases, ranging anywhere from street-level dealers to cartel-connected narcotics traffickers. All of my cases involve some form of drug activity, but many of them also involve felony child endangerment, vehicle theft, robbery, arming enhancements, strike offenses, and gang allegations. I decide which charges to file, engage in settlement discussions with defense counsel, conduct preliminary hearings, and try felony jury trials if the case does not resolve. This requires me to be in court nearly every day. When I’m not in court, I am involved in the investigative aspect of these criminal cases, such as writing search warrants, visiting crime scenes, and assisting law enforcement officers in obtaining evidence.
How did you find your job?
Prior to graduating [from] the University of Colorado Law School, I had obtained a post-bar internship with the Santa Clara County DA’s Office. I knew that a job offer was not guaranteed, but I had the opportunity to make an impression and make myself indispensable. After bar results, I interviewed with the office and then volunteered with the Marin County District Attorney while I awaited the hiring decision.
How did Colorado Law help you in your job search?
I decided during my 3L year that I was going to move back home to the San Francisco Bay area. Todd Rogers, assistant dean for career development, helped me find contact information for CU alumni in the area, and Alexia McCaskill, director for government and public interest, helped me research [the] local DA’s offices that offered post-bar internships. Most importantly, I was awarded a Judicial Fellowship from Colorado Law. This allowed me to work in a volunteer capacity as a post-bar intern. Without this fellowship, I wouldn’t have had the financial ability to wait out the interview process.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis, and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
Every day I have to be an advocate for the people of the state of California. Whether it be in a judge’s chambers, in a pretrial discussion calendar, or in front of a jury, I have to rely on the skill of oral advocacy. Colorado Law helped me learn and develop that skill in two ways. First and foremost was the mock trial program. I had two amazing coaches who were Colorado Law alumni and who truly cared about each member’s advancement as a trial attorney. As a part of that team, I gained the confidence to think on my feet and respond to a dynamic courtroom environment. Second was the Evidence and Trial Practice course I took at CU. This unique course combined the laws of evidence and the skills of trial advocacy into a practical learning environment, teaching students not just the letter of the law but how to actually use it.
Please talk a little about “people skills” and networking specifically. How has your professional network made a difference in your career?
When I moved from Colorado to California, I had to basically start my network from scratch. The Santa Clara DA’s Office has an extensive internship program, and I had to stand out enough to be one of the few entry-level attorneys they would hire. I signed up to work every volunteer event that the office hosted, attended after-work happy hours, and went out of my way to assist a variety of attorneys with their projects. The more attorneys that got to know me and my work product, the more proponents I had backing me to be hired.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
Find something in law school you like and believe in. Maybe it’s an extracurricular, a volunteer position, or an elective course. Then push yourself to be the best at it. There are many people from my class that have amazing jobs doing what they are passionate about. You won’t find those jobs by simply taking a course because it is going to be on the bar exam. Don’t get caught up in checking the boxes. When you actually like what you are doing, you are going to excel at it. Employers will notice your passion, hard work, and dedication to a cause.
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
When I applied to law school, I didn’t have any family or friends that were lawyers, so I knew I wanted to go to a law school that taught me what it actually meant to be a lawyer. When I was researching schools, CU seemed to be a school that put an emphasis on experiential learning. They offered a clinical course for nearly every area of legal practice. They offered externships for credits and encouraged their students to learn outside of the classroom. They also championed a public service commitment that 1Ls took during orientation in order to encourage civic engagement throughout all three years. Colorado Law was a school where I could learn not just how to think like a lawyer but how to be one.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
During my interview at the Santa Clara DA’s Office, I was able to say that I had tried seven criminal jury trials as a law student. That was unheard of at this DA’s office and set me apart as a candidate. Word got around, and attorneys that weren’t even on the interview panel were asking me where I went to law school. That’s when I realized just how unique Colorado Law is when it comes to the experiential law program they have developed. I honestly believe I would not have gotten this job if I hadn’t gone to Colorado Law.
PICTURED: Souto receiving the Robert L. Webb Award for Misdemeanor Trial Advocacy from the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office in 2014.
To see more Promising Starts: www.colorado.edu/law/careers/career-paths/promising-starts