The class of 2010’s Amanda Smith grew up in East Lake, Ohio, a town where going to college after high school graduation was the exception, not the rule. From a young age, however, Smith’s mother assured her that she would go to college, and after graduating as valedictorian of her high school class in 2003, her mother’s prediction came true as Smith enrolled at The Ohio State University (OSU). In addition to majoring in sociology and criminology, Smith also worked throughout her college career, including spending a few years doing academic advising for other sociology students.
Smith says that she knew since high school that she wanted to be a lawyer. She was raised to question the way justice is administered, particularly because her stepfather was almost wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit when he was younger. Then, during her first quarter at OSU, Smith had to read the book “The Innocents” by Taryn Simon for one of her classes. “More than anything,” says Smith, “the book drew my attention to the problems in our justice system. I think it is atrocious that people are wrongfully convicted so often.
On the Hunt for a Law School
After graduating from OSU, Smith began searching for a law school that best fit her interests. An innocence project of some sort was high on her list of “must-haves” for law schools; she chose UC’s College of Law, she says, because of the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP), the only one in Ohio. She applied for, and accepted, a fellowship with UC’s Rosenthal Institute for Justice to work for OIP during her first summer of law school and throughout her 2L year. She enjoyed her year with the OIP, and really values the experience and insight she gained as a result of her involvement. She especially appreciates that she has been able to continue her involvement with OIP as one of the cases she worked on as a fellow is ongoing.
During her second summer in law school, Smith worked at the Jones Day law firm in Columbus, Ohio. “I wanted to experience a large firm atmosphere, and I knew there were many advantages working in that kind of setting,” she said. While at Jones Day, Smith had the opportunity to work on cases involving many different facets of civil law, including tax, torts, contracts, patents, and many other areas.
While she enjoyed her experience at the law firm, Smith determined that a position at a large firm was not for her. “I’ve always wanted to do criminal defense work,” she said, “and I feel working in a public defender’s office is the best fit for me.” Ideally, she hopes to work at a public defender’s office somewhere in Ohio, preferably in Columbus or Cleveland.
Clinic Experience Provides Great Training Ground
Her desire to continue to do that type of work has been further solidified through her work with the Indigent Defense Clinic this year. She learned about the clinic during her first year and knew she wanted to participate when she was a 3L and had her limited practice license. “Participating in the clinic has been amazing,” she commented. “The 10-day training participants go through was especially helpful, because I learned everything: how to investigate cases, how to interview and cross examine witnesses, how to do opening and closing statements.” Working closely with Robert Jensen, her supervising attorney, Smith has already closed a case and currently has five clients facing various charges. Initially, students participating in the clinic work on cases involving misdemeanors, but eventually they are able to pick up cases involving up to felony III charges.
“I take my clinic role very seriously,” she said. “It’s an amazing responsibility. You are their representative in court, the one person between them and jail, and it’s on you to convince the judge not to send them.” She also emphasized that having this experience is an important way to discover whether you want to practice this type of law in the future. “It’s incredibly emotional,” she says, “and it settles on you to decide if you could do it as a career.” Smith also enjoys the opportunities that the clinic provides for her to collaborate with and bounce ideas off of the other participating students.
Although her work with the clinic keeps her busy, she manages to remain very involved in the law school. She holds leadership positions in many organizations, including the ACLU club, the American Constitution Society, Law Democrats, the Criminal Law Association, and Law Students for Reproductive Justice. In addition, Smith is a member of the Student Legal Education Committee, is a judge for Student Court, and is a member of UC’s Moot Court team.
In what free time she does have, Smith also enjoys spending time with her new husband—she got married on October 17, 2009—and their English bulldog and three cats. She also likes to play tennis and to cook. In fact, she recently won third place in a chili cook-off. Smith also enjoys helping wherever she is needed, and she loves being a resource to other students in whatever capacity she may be needed.