Carson Smith (JD ’16) named ‘Law Student of the Year’ by the National Jurist

Photo of Carson Smith (JD '16) outside Worrell Professional Center

Carson Smith (JD ’16) is the first Wake Forest Law student to be recognized by the National Jurist as “Law Student of the Year.” He is one of five students recognized from law schools across the nation in the current issue of the magazine. Smith was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2009 with a degree in management. Prior to entering law school, he worked in management and sales for a medical services company.

While in law school, Smith has been very involved with the Pro Bono Project, this year serving as the executive director. In the past three years he has volunteered for Big Brothers, Big Sisters, mentored juveniles who have been drug abusers in the Reclaiming Futures project and served as a coordinator for the law school and YWCS’s Teen Court Program. Following graduation, Smith plans to return to his home town as a public defender, providing legal services to individuals unable to afford adequate representation.

Outreach Director Beth Hopkins says, “His imprint on our program has heightened the student body’s understanding of pro bono services, and as a visionary, he has broadened the Wake Forest Law’s pro bono outreach in this community. Smith’s contributions to our program have sealed the law school’s place in its quest for providing legal information to that segment of the community that has the greatest need for justice.”

The section of the National Jurist story that features Smith follows.

In the fall semester of 2015, students at Wake Forest University School of Law logged 1,827 pro bono hours, a 77 percent increase from Fall 2014. Student participation also increased 11 percent. Third-year Carson Smith was the law student who made it happen. He even convinced faculty members to add a pro bono component to the requirements of a first-year course.

But if he were all about numbers, Smith would be working toward becoming an accountant. As a future lawyer, Smith is focused on creating legal access for underserved communities, as illustrated by his commitment to working as a public defender in Charlotte, N.C., after he passes the bar.

“In North Carolina alone, more than 2 million people qualify for legal aid. However, there are only 300 legal aid attorneys statewide,” Smith said. “That’s roughly 13,000 people for each legal aid attorney. There is an enormous need for law schools to help fill this void.”

Smith used his background in management to maximize the program’s results and motivate the project coordinators to reach unprecedented goals.

“His imprint on our program has heightened the student body’s understanding of pro bono services, and as a visionary he has broader the Wake Forest Law School’s pro bono outreach in this community,” his nomination read.

Additionally, Smith spearheaded the development of two projects.

First is the Education Justice Project. In partnership with Legal Aid of North Carolina and the Kilpatrick Townsend law firm, it will pair students with attorneys to advocate for educational rights of students with disabilities and students who have received excessively punitive suspensions.

His second endeavor is the Educational Surrogate Project, a collaborative effort with the Winston-Salem Forsyth County Department of Social Services. Wake Forest law students will as surrogate parents to students with disabilities to ensure that they receive appropriate Individualized Education Programs as required by law.

In the community, Smith volunteers with Big Brothers, Big Sisters. He mentors juveniles who have been drug abusers in the Reclaiming Futures project. He also serves as a coordinator for the law school and YWCS’s Teen Court Program. In Teen Court, teenagers who have been charged with misdemeanors appear before their teenage peers for adjudication.

“I worked in management and sales for four years after college,” Smith said. “While I was making good money, I didn’t find the work fulfilling. To fill that void, I started volunteering in the Charlotte community and quickly realized that serving the poor and disadvantaged brought me a lot of joy. Once I found my passion, everything else fell in place.”

The National Jurist is the leading news sources in legal education. The National Jurist was founded in 1991 and is published four times a year. It reaches an estimated 100,000 law students, according to the National Jurist website.