McGeorge alumnus Thomas Humann ’20 navigating from cockpit to courtroom

Thomas Humann ’20 planned to study law immediately after serving in the Marines. But he fell in love with flying helicopters and airplanes so his dream took decades to come true.

A Massachusetts native, Humann attended the College of the Holy Cross as a political science student and then was trained as an attack helicopter pilot in the Marines. He later piloted Marine One for the White House, serving 12 years before leaving the Corps in 2005.

He then flew airplanes and helicopters as a fire and rescue pilot for Cal Fire (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) until 2017.

“Then I went to an information session at McGeorge on a whim and it sparked my original intention of pursuing my dream of becoming a lawyer,” Humann said. “I started looking at my age (then 45) and the arc of my life and made the decision that it was almost now or never.

“I had time to have a full second career,” he said. “So I left the cockpit and moved toward the courtroom.”

Humann, a father of four who lives in Folsom, was impressed right away by the warmth of the connections he made with McGeorge faculty, staff and deans.

“Tracy Simmons (assistant dean for admissions and financial aid) really showed that the school not only cared, but indicated that they have a special place in their hearts for veterans,” he said. “They worked with me and if I had any doubt about making the career change it was people like her who were the extra weight on the scale.

“I did start looking at other schools, but none made that personal effort to connect with me.”

Finding the money to attend law school was difficult, Humann said, but the Veterans Administration’s Yellow Ribbon Program helped with tuition.

“As far as going back to school, I felt like I had a massive advantage because I knew how hard it was to work in the real world,” he said. “I had a good work ethic. And I was really excited to be back in the classroom and learning.

“Being away from that intellectual stimulation for so long, law school really invigorated something in me,” Humann added. “It’s amazing to step back, read, and discuss and have intellectual conversations. I really enjoy it.”

He especially enjoyed his torts class with Professor Larry Levine.

“He was funny, approachable, and his class went by fast,” Humann said. “I looked forward to going to his class every time. He’s probably the best professor I’ve ever had.”

What stands out are the practicum classes McGeorge offers, including Trial Advocacy, with Professors Jay Leach and Cary Bricker. “Because of their personalities and experience as a former litigator and federal defender, they bring a personal touch to the class and show you how to connect to juries, and at the same time, teach you how to think on your feet and react quickly when the other side objects.”

After completing his first year at McGeorge, Humann participated in the Salzburg, Austria-based program in comparative freedom of expression with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

“It was an unbelievable experience being in a small classroom with Anthony Kennedy, hearing his firsthand descriptions of the process of decision-making of the Supreme Court,” Humann said.

He also completed an externship at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, an experience that made him appreciate McGeorge’s requirement of two years of research and writing briefs. Other law schools don’t necessarily prepare students with practical lawyering skills, Humann said, but he thinks McGeorge has prepared him with the very skills he will need in his first years as a practicing attorney.

He advised anyone considering law school to become the best writer they can, and to take advantage of any public speaking experiences. He also heeded the warnings McGeorge administrators offered during orientation to become incredibly detailed about time management.

“Stick to your schedule, really block out every bit of time, and realize how much work is required,” he said. “Keep pace or you’ll find yourself behind the eight ball at the end.”

Although he enjoyed studying criminal law, Humann is interested in pursuing a career in the civil field and particularly liked his classes in torts, contracts, health law, and space law and policy.

“I spent time as an aircraft accident investigator with Cal Fire and we did investigations and when you deal with personal injury law the analytical process is somewhat similar,” he said. “Putting the pieces together about what caused it and the mental process — that struck me right away.”

Presently studying for the bar exam, Humann has a job lined up for the fall with a civil litigation firm in Sacramento.