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Leaving a Mark at UB Law: How One Student’s Journey Inspires Others

Published September 28, 2022

Attending law school doesn’t just build up your skills for pursuing a legal career, it gives you a chance to be part of—and contribute to—a larger community. Whether it's through experiential learning opportunities like fellowships, externships or moot court competitions; taking part in diverse student groups like LGBTQ-friendly OUTLaw or the Black Law Students Association (BLSA); or by joining one of the various alumni organizations when your academic journey comes to a close, UB Law has something for everyone. We are proud to host a variety of avenues for you to get involved in the law community, build a sense of rapport and camaraderie with your peers, and ultimately give back to the next generation of law students.

Shakierah Smith.

Shakierah Smith ’22

Today we’re putting the spotlight on recent alum, Shakierah Smith ’22. Shakierah holds a bachelor’s in communications and criminal justice and a master’s degree in criminal justice from the Rochester Institute of Technology. During her time at UB Law, she founded the First-Generation Law Students Association, planned and executed the Growing Up Marshall event—which hosted John W. Marshall, son of Justice Thurgood Marshall—and became the first editor devoted to diversity, equity, and inclusion at the Buffalo Law Review. In this blog, we will follow Smith’s extraordinary accomplishments and experiences to showcase ways law students can get involved and give back to the UB Law community

Choosing the Legal Path—And a Law School

For some, attending law school is a lifelong dream that starts when they’re in grade school or looking to follow in their family’s footsteps. For others, it might not cross their mind until late in their undergraduate career when it’s perhaps suggested by a mentor, advisor or close friend. Then some feel law school as a calling, spurred by a particular event. It was the latter that brought Shakierah Smith into the legal world. “My passion and motivation for pursuing a legal degree arose when a close relative was molested by someone my family and I trusted,” Smith explained. “Ultimately, he was found not guilty by a jury. That verdict exposed me to the unfortunate reality and inadequacies within our criminal justice system, and inspired me to become an attorney.” Circumstances like these are unfortunately not uncommon in our justice system, but it’s our job as a legal community to help usher in change and justice through our hard work and dedication.

So, once the seed is planted and law school is the goal, the question then becomes: where to go? Some students opt to stay close to home, while others realize the high costs often associated with legal education means choosing an affordable school is priority number one. In the case of Smith and other first-generation students like her; many don’t know where to start. But fortunately, Smith explains UB was the best of both worlds. “[UB Law] was close to my hometown, cost efficient and reputable.” Proximity and financial practicality weren’t the only deciding factors, though. “I had also received a lot of positive feedback about the institution and its faculty and staff from graduates,” Smith said.

Way to go, UB alumni!

Leaving the Law School Better than You Found It

Our goal at UB Law is to provide world-class education to create, foster and inspire the next generation of dedicated and accomplished attorneys. Your goal is to become the best student—and future attorney—that you can be, not just by excelling academically, but by taking advantage of everything else that’s offered:

But that’s not all.

We encourage our students to start building their role in the community early in their legal education, and that includes giving back whenever and wherever they can! Students like Shakierah took this task to heart, going above and beyond. Becoming the first DEI Editor at the Buffalo Law Review counts as one of her fondest accomplishments. “When you look at most law reviews, the reality is they are predominantly white and lack diversity in other areas as well. I noticed this immediately when I was offered a position. So, I decided to use my membership to evoke change and bring important DEI issues to the forefront of Law Review’s agenda, hence, the creation of the position.”

We also offer a whole host of Student Organizations! One of them having been created by Shakierah. “I wanted first-generation law students, like me, to have access to knowledge and opportunities that most first-generation students are often unaware of. I also wanted to make their transition to law school as smooth sailing as possible.” Shakierah saw a need and took action, founding the First-Generation Law Student Association during her first year of law school. “My first year of law school was a difficult transition, partly due to not having anyone in my family or friends who are attorneys,” Smith said. “Students like me share a common consensus that we lack access to generational knowledge about law school and the legal profession in general.” Shakierah shared their motto with us:

‘First-Generation Students, But Not the Last’

If that were not already enough to make a lasting impact on our community, Shakierah continued her efforts, playing a role in the Gilbert King speaking engagement and as an instrumental member in organizing “Growing Up Marshall: Life, Legacy & Lessons Learned.” Shakierah said “The Growing Up Marshall event was phenomenal! It took a lot of hard work and collaboration between the Black Law Students Association and Buffalo Law Review, which was definitely worth it.” During the event, John Marshall shared memories of his father’s groundbreaking career, childhood memories, and reminded students the work is not done. It is on all of us to continue to learn and find appreciation in each other’s differences. “Thurgood Marshall was instrumental to the advancement of black attorneys and judges, which is why I thought it was necessary to host such an event during Black History Month,” Smith shared.

Taking charge of your academics is one thing but taking charge to improve the resources for others is another. So, how exactly did Shakierah make time to “do it all.” Well, it was a balancing act.

Balancing Schoolwork, Extracurriculars and Future Goals

We asked Smith for her words of wisdom on how other students can get involved. “Always put academics first,” she says, “because that’s the main reason you’re in law school. However, you should strive to make time for extracurricular activities and figure out ways to make the institution better than it was when you arrived; the next generation of lawyers and judges are counting on your innovations and the work you do now.”

While academics always came first for Smith, the balancing act means getting yourself well-acquainted with your law school rhythm. “After I developed an academic plan, learned how to study, and navigated my courses, I started to add extracurricular activities to my schedule,” she says. “I selected a mix of doctrinal, practical and writing courses so my course load was not overwhelming. This balance in classes allowed me to take on extracurricular activities; I highly recommend it to law students.”

Whether your goals for post-law school are already planned out, or if you’re still trying to find your own rhythm, the main thing is to stay focused and soak up as much experience as you can—while still finding those ways to give back and build up your own law community. Even after landing a job at Fried Frank, a large NYC firm, Smith still wonders what the future has in store. “I’m not sure what’s next for my legal career,” she considers, before mentioning her ultimate goal to become a judge and continuing to do pro bono work.

“All in all, I am proud of the work that I’ve done at UB Law, which has changed me for the better,” says Smith. “Looking back, my law school journey and accomplishments seem so surreal. I could not have imagined any of this in my wildest dream, let alone my first year of law school.” Her advice to current and future law students? “Be confident, don’t compete with your peers, focus on your passion and purpose, and believe in yourself. My only hope is that current and future students continue to carry the torch and make progress, as we still have a long way to go.”

We want to thank Shakierah Smith for her time speaking with us about her own UB Law journey and giving advice for others. And remember, whether you’re a current or prospective UB Law student, please don’t forget to take advantage of all the resources available to help make sure your academic career is a successful one!

Additional Resources

Photo of Rachael Herbst.

Rachael Herbst: Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications at the University at                       Buffalo School of Law.

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