Connor Smith

Connor SmithClass of 2018

BA, Political Science
California Polytechnic State University

What did you do before law school, and what led to you pursue a law degree?

Pursuing a law degree was the initial reason I went to undergrad. In my high school English class, the teacher had us argue a mock case about whether The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be banned from school classrooms. I was assigned to argue affirmatively for the ban. I was able to win the case, even though I personally did not think the book should be banned. The experience of advocating for something I did not agree with, but being able to leave my own opinions at the door, made me appreciate and admire the roles lawyers take on. After winning that case in high school, becoming a lawyer became a dream of mine, and it's something I have consistently worked towards.

In the process of working to become a lawyer, I became a commercial fisherman. My family has been commercial fishing in Bristol Bay, Alaska — in the Bering Sea — since 1936. I first went fishing with my uncle when I was only 12. I worked for captains on boats during the summer months for nine years before I purchased my own boat and limited entry permit to harvest sockeye salmon. Commercial fishing has always been a good way to pay for school and life while having the winters free to continue my studies. I have continued to spend my law school summers captaining my boat in Alaska, and I purchased a second boat this winter. I am very aware that when I finish law school I will be able to transition into becoming a full-time lawyer, but at the minute, I am enjoying pursuing both of my passions.

What activities are you involved in at the law school or in the community?

I chose to be a part of American Indian Law Journal because of my family's roots in Alaska. Both of my parents grew up in small Alaska Native villages in Western Alaska. I had the opportunity to grow up as a part of these communities, and it is something that I am so grateful for. Having the opportunity to be involved in AILJ at the law school has been such a positive part of my school experience. I was able to meet other students who are passionate about Indian law, and my understanding of the issues that face Native Americans and Alaska Natives has grown tremendously. Being involved in the journal has also helped me to refine my writing and editing skills. It is an opportunity that I continuously find value from both currently and also looking into my future as a lawyer.

I have also had the opportunity to become involved in the Labor and Employment Association at the law school, and I currently serve as the organization's president. My involvement in LELA has helped me meet so many lawyers and community members who are interested in helping workers and creating positive change. The organization has also led to volunteering opportunities with community organizations such as the Unemployment Law Project and the Fair Work Center.

What have you found most valuable during your law school education?

I think that the most valuable experience I have had so far in law school is as a clinical student at the Fair Work Center. The clinic is formally called the Workers' Rights Clinic, and the focus of the class is on helping provide legal help and information to workers within the community who cannot normally afford to seek help. A clinic is basically a law firm that is associated with the law school. Students who take the clinical class can get credit for doing intern-type work at the law firm. Through the clinic, I was able to take on several cases. The clinic was the first time I could take what I had learned at school and use it to help others. I enjoyed and appreciated the hands-on learning style, and I believe that I grew more as a young lawyer in the three months in the clinic than I did in my whole first year of school.

What advice would you offer a prospective law student?

Being a law student is a significant commitment. It is important to spend some time thinking through the enormity of what you are taking on before starting school. It is a lot of work, but you quickly get used to the pace and the tempo. It is important to not lose yourself and why you came to law school in all that is thrown at you. Everyone that undertakes going to law school usually has a unique and worthwhile reason for doing so. One of the major challenges of school is remembering that reason while also navigating all the doctrine and skills that you are learning.

Self-reflection is an important practice throughout the three years. After each set of finals, or every other month, it is a good idea to think about why you came to law school, where you are currently and where you want to be.

Finally, patience is also important. Three years is way shorter and also way longer than it sounds. It is important to remember that it takes a lot of investment — of time and energy — to arrive at your goal, especially when your goal is being an attorney. Also, it is important to not let the three years fly by and to take the time to enjoy the journey.

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