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When law and mentoring intersect

Career Reception event was a bridge builder.

by Karanja A. Ajanaku

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The second annual Career Reception for law students – hosted by the City of Memphis’s Law Division – served as the intersection of interests that Carl Carter and J.B. Smiley Jr. brought to City Hall last week.

Carter, who was there on the lookout for International paper, where he is the associate general counsel, was also on hand to represent the Tennessee Bar Association, where he serves on the board of governors and represents the eighth district.

Smiley, a Memphis native, is a law student at William H. Barnes School of Law in Little Rock.

“Those of us who are professionals and who have been blessed to be successful, we need to reach back, pull up, help out, push forward or what have you,” said Carter within earshot of a nodding and mission-oriented Smiley.

“I wanted to do my best to come back home and network with professionals in the community that I want to practice in,” said Smiley.

The lawyer and the would-be lawyer both rated the gathering a success. Last year the participating students came from the University of Mississippi and the University of Memphis. This year, Vanderbilt, the Nashville School of Law and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock also sent students.

Deputy City Attorney Regina Morrison Newman said nearly every local government law office, many of Memphis’ large and small law firms, and corporations such as International Paper and TruGreen, sent representatives to speak to the students about career opportunities and internships. Also represented were Memphis Area Legal Services, Counsel on Call, Memphis Bar Association, National Bar Association and members of the local judiciary, including Circuit Court Judges Jerry Stokes and Gina Higgins.

 “The annual reception furthers the goals of the administration of Memphis Mayor AC Wharton Jr. to offer opportunities to youth and to make Memphis the City of Choice in which to live, work and recreate,” said Newman. “We look forward to growing this event in future years.”

‘New blood’

Assistant County Atty. Marlinee Iverson was there to inform and to be alert for “new blood,” which she said is important to government offices.

“I am really committed to Shelby County and the city. I’ve worked in a lot of the offices here. I’ve worked for the DA, the U.S. Attorney’s Office. We really want to get a thriving group of attorneys. The young ones just out of law school have something to offer because they have unique perspectives, different perspectives,” said Iverson.

“We’re going to get new blood in that challenges us maybe on old patterns and get us to look at things differently, resolve problems differently. That’s why I think a program like this, where we get to meet students who are just graduating and encourage them to apply for offices like ours, helps us.”

Iverson said she encountered a lot of students who were interested in “moving to Memphis or moving back to Memphis and doing work for the county or the city. What struck me is that they didn’t seem as interested in doing private sector work,” she said.

“I thought a lot of young professionals were leaving (the Memphis area), a mass exodus of young professionals. I have heard that. But in terms of these law students, I didn’t get a sense of that at all. The people who spoke here, the leaders of the community, said this is one of the best places to work, and I agree with that.”

Don’t fall for the misconception

Some 30 years ago, Carter was a law student. He knows the “tremendous benefit” derived when there is a function that serves as a networking opportunity for law students who will be graduating or law students looking for some employment to start connecting with potential employers.

“It is no secret that the jobs prospects are not what they used to be, but what I tell people is that with a little extra effort making some connections, events like this provide a tremendous benefit because they create the opportunity for you,” said Carter. “I commend the mayor and the City of Memphis’ Chief Counsel Herman Morris.”

A native Memphian, Carter attended Morehouse College and the University of Virginia School of Law.

“I was fortunate enough to be able to return to Memphis right after law school to clerk for the Honorable Odell Horton Jr. Clerking for Judge Horton, being here working downtown in the federal building was a tremendous experience.”

Carter attended Overton High School, which is known for its performing arts emphasis.

“That’s what is so fantastic about the law. There is no specific major,” said Carter, who shared that he has a daughter interested in attending a higher-education institution to perhaps become something “like the director of nursing for a hospital.”

 “I said, ‘You know what? I want you to go on and become the director of nursing because you probably ultimately (are) going to become a lawyer and be practicing in the medical malpractice area.’ I was an accounting major in undergrad.

“The misconception is that you need to major in political science, you need to be an English major,” said Carter. “The study of law is open to anyone with an undergraduate degree who is willing and who wants to take their seat at the table and do what is needed to graduate and take the bar exam.”

‘I want to be a lawyer’

Smiley went to Bolton High School, played basketball throughout college and got to his senior year and said, “I think I want to go to law school.”

The challenges included not knowing any lawyers or what he needed to do. He reasoned upon the need for a double major, hustling with a heavy course load his senior year so that he could have the double major of criminal justice and sociology.

The seed, he said upon reflection, was planted at an early age.

“When I was 10 years old I was playing basketball and the coach was helping different individuals in the community, giving them clothes, fatherly advice….I was very inquisitive at that age so I’m asking a lot of questions. I said, ‘How are you able to help everybody?’ He said, ‘Well, I am not able to help everybody but I do my best to.’ I (asked), ‘What do you do?’ He said, ‘I’m a lawyer.’

“So the seed was planted at the age of 10,” said Smiley. “I played basketball in college and (eventually) said, “I want to be a lawyer.”

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