Attorney finds her home in real estate law

Jesse Winter

After serving as a summer clerk with the firm as a student in 2021, Shakierah Smith ’18, ’19 MS was offered a position at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson after graduation.

As a child, Shakierah Smith ’18 (criminal justice and communication), ’19 MS (criminal justice) loved spending time with her grandmother watching Law & Order. She recalls feeling inspired as she watched the fictional attorneys advocating for their clients.

“They were so smart and eloquent. You could tell that they knew their stuff and were passionate about seeking justice. I found that profound at a young age, and intriguing,” said Smith. “I didn’t know exactly who I was going to become, but I thought maybe I could be a criminal prosecutor.”

Today—after passing the New York state bar exam on her first try—Smith is a real estate associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, a law firm in New York City known nationally for its prestigious real estate practice group. While she didn’t follow the exact path of the attorneys that inspired her, Smith found her niche in property law while pursuing her Juris Doctor at University at Buffalo School of Law, where she graduated in 2022.

Smith shared that her success in law school and beyond was thanks, in part, to her support system and positive experiences at RIT.

“Things may have turned out differently for me if I went to another university. I really felt welcomed at RIT, and I felt supported,” said Smith. “There was a point when I was ready to drop out of law school, but I got on a three-way call with RIT professors O. Nicholas Robertson and John McCluskey and we talked through it. They said they would support me either way, but they encouraged me to keep going, and I did.”

Her support system reminded Smith that she had the tools to succeed in her back pocket. She said her research with RIT’s Center for Public Safety Initiatives was one of the most valuable experiences from her time at the university.

“Prior to that, I really hadn’t done any research. So they walked me through the process and sharpened all of those important skills I ended up utilizing in law school,” said Smith. “My research experience and the relationships I developed with my professors in the criminal justice and communication programs really set me up to be successful.”

Smith is currently writing a book, scheduled to publish in early 2025, that shares her journey to becoming a lawyer. As she reflected on that journey, and looks toward her ultimate goal of becoming a judge, she offered valuable advice for students looking to find their own place in the world.

“One of my biggest struggles throughout my academic career was being my own worst enemy,” said Smith. “It may seem tough sometimes, and you may question yourself and your capabilities, but I promise it’s going to pass. Once you’re at commencement and you’re walking across the stage, and you’re celebrating with your family and your professors, you’re going to see it was all worth it and that moment of doubt was just a hiccup in your story.”

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