At 4 a.m., most Fowler School of Law students are likely still in bed dreaming of contracts and torts. Unless you’re Alexa Dectis (JD ’19), which means you’re already awake and ready to commute from Chapman University to an internship at Discovery Communications’ Los Angeles office.
“Three days a week I’d go to L.A., intern all day, get home at night, try to do some homework, go to sleep, wake up and go to class all day,” Dectis says. “I was the most excited person on the planet at 4 a.m. I truly love to work. I’m thankful that I’m able to.”
Diagnosed as a toddler with spinal muscular atrophy, Dectis uses a powered chair to accommodate her movement and life, getting her to where she needs to be. One such location just happens to be Fowler Law School, nearly 3,000 miles away from her family and hometown of Orefield, Pa.
Thinking Chapman First, as a Student
Dectis employs 16 Chapman students, mostly from the health or biological sciences programs, to assist her in performing tasks most people take for granted — like dressing, showering and eating. But Dectis makes it clear she’s helping them as much as they’re helping her.
“It works out very well for all of us,” says Dectis, “because they help me by taking care of me, but then I help them by writing them letters of recommendation and helping them get patient contact hours for when they apply to grad school.”
It’s not just the students she officially hires who are helpful. Dectis has found the community at the Fowler School of Law to be very supportive, making her transition to both law school and West Coast living much easier.
“My fellow law students have been a huge help in that they take it upon themselves to help me in ways I couldn’t help myself,” says Dectis. “When I go to a classroom, the chair is often pulled away from the desk before I’m even there. At the end of classes, students put my laptop in my bag without me even asking. I think it’s been really wonderful to be surrounded by people who genuinely care about me and want to help me.”
That supportive environment is just one of the reasons Dectis chose to get her law degree at Chapman after graduating from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. with a bachelor’s degree in communications.
“I really like the sense of community at Chapman,” Dectis says. “I really liked how strong the Entertainment Law emphasis program was. I know that I made the right choice because the skills that I learned in certain Entertainment Law classes — like Professor Kathy Heller’s entertainment industry contacts — helped me so much in my internships.”
Those internships include several stints at Discovery, which Dectis first held at the company’s Silver Spring, Maryland offices while still attending George Washington. She continued to intern at their Los Angeles offices after starting at Chapman, where she’s been able to apply the skills acquired in Professor Heller’s classes to her work in the company’s Business & Legal Affairs Department.
Acting Her Way into Law
It’s no coincidence that Dectis has found the intersection of law and entertainment so compelling. Because sports weren’t accommodating to her needs, she started acting “for fun” at a young age. This led to a string of acting gigs throughout her childhood and adolescence, including appearances in several television shows, movies and commercials, such as “Sesame Street,” “The Guiding Light” and the Tina Fey-Paul Rudd comedy “Admission.”
“I became interested in law because I knew that I’d never be able to exercise my body, so I decided to exercise my brain,” Dectis says. “I thought that law would be a really exciting way to use my brain and to challenge myself. Being a child actress, I was always interested in what happened on the other side of the camera, which is what drew me to talent agreements and the regulations for minors in the entertainment industry. Kids in the entertainment industry need to be protected.”
After graduating from Chapman, Dectis would like to find employment at a television network or production company working on legal agreements, and while she has enjoyed life in Southern California, Dectis says she is open to going “wherever I get a job.”
“All I want to do is work,” says Dectis. “It’s really what I live for. So many people don’t care to reach their full potential in life, and so knowing that I’m able to go to law school and work is something I’m so thankful for.”