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Professor Rachel Smith Impacts the Next Generation of Attorneys

As an undergraduate student at Barnard College at Colombia University in New York, Professor Rachel Smith was a geology major.  While doing geology research in a climatology lab following graduation, however, Smith began feeling as though she needed a career in which she could contribute more directly to helping people.  “The research I was doing may have contributed to society,” she said, “but in a more indirect way.  I ultimately decided a law degree would allow me to provide a service directly to people who needed help.”

Thus after working for three years, Smith began law school at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.  She entered a joint degree program there, earning a juris doctor and master’s degree in environmental science.  During her summers in school, Smith explored various opportunities, particularly with respect to geography.  Smith worked at Legal Aid of Cincinnati during her first summer; the following summer she worked at the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  During the last summer of her studies, Smith split her time between law firms in Atlanta, Georgia, and Grand Rapids, Michigan.  “I was trying to figure out where I wanted to end up,” said Smith, “so I took advantage of opportunities in various places.” 

The Path of an Attorney

After graduating, Smith served as a judicial clerk for the Honorable Wader Brorby of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The clerkship was originally a one-year position, but Smith remained in the position for two. Following her clerkship, Smith stayed in Wyoming and accepted a position with the Wyoming Attorney General’s office as an assistant attorney general. She served as the representative of the Department of Environmental Quality Water Quality Divison.  She explained that, because Wyoming is small, the attorneys in the AG’s office also served as a kind of in-house counsel for the various administrative agencies.  As a result, Smith, as the only water quality attorney, not only took referrals for enforcement of violations of environmental standards, but also assisted the department with negotiating contracts, represented the department at administrative hearings, and even played a role in rule making. 

Professor Smith remained in the position with the Wyoming Attorney General’s office for four years, at the end of which she decided to move back to Cincinnati, her hometown. “I had been away for 17 years, not counting the summer I worked for Legal Aid,” she said. “And even though I didn’t think I would end up here, it ultimately seemed like the right choice.”  Smith said she felt as though Cincinnati offered the “best combination of the advantages of city living without the disadvantages of a big city or a small town.”

Upon returning to the Queen City, Smith worked at law firm Dinsmore & Shohl LLP in the environmental practice group.  Her work focused on environmental compliance counseling, as well as litigation.  Over the course of the five years she worked there, Smith also “branched out” and worked somewhat with the medical products liability group as well. 

Finding her Niche in Research and Writing

Eventually, she joined the faculty of the College of Law.  “I applied every time there was an opening for a legal writing professor,” Smith explained.  After completing her judicial clerkship, Smith was offered a similar position Indiana University, but she thought she needed more practical experience before accepting the job.  “After leaving the Attorney General’s office, though,” said Smith, “I began to feel as though teaching legal writing was the best fit for me, and after being out of school for 11 years, I thought it was a good time to try to do it.”  Smith was interested in the position at UC because she had a lot of respect for the school.  “In my position at Dinsmore, I met many UC graduates and was constantly impressed with the quality of students I was seeing,” she said. 

Now in her seventh year as a professor at the College of Law, Smith teaches the 1L Lawyering classes—legal research and writing and advocacy—as well as Intensive Practical Lawyering Skills.  This year she also began serving as the advisor for Moot Court, an opportunity she fully embraces.  “I love being able to work with upper-level students,” she said, “and I enjoy the opportunity to be connected to appellate-level advocacy through the moot court students.”  In her own law school days, Smith took an Appellate Advocacy course.   She was also exposed to appellate advocacy constantly in her role as a clerk with the Tenth Circuit for two years.  Moot Court, then, serves as a way to keep her connected to those earlier experiences; only this time, as she points out with a smile, “the students do all the work—I just get to watch.”