A New Leader at Social Justice Initiatives
In 2014, Erica Smock ’95 went to work as a judicial strategist at the Center for Reproductive Rights. Her mission was to develop a campaign to support the center’s litigators in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the 2016 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas could not pass laws that created an undue burden on women seeking abortions. Smock’s team courted the media and gathered 46 amicus briefs to bolster the center’s fight to invalidate the Texas legislation. “The amicus strategy was very successful and the briefs were cited quite a bit,” she said. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”
Smock calls this campaign-style approach 21st-century lawyering and promises to bring it to her new job as Assistant Dean and Dean for Social Justice Initiatives and Public Service Lawyering. Smock is not new to SJI; she worked as an SJI career adviser from 2004 to 2014. She succeeds Ellen Chapnick, who founded the department in 1994 as the Center for Public Interest Lawyering, which was expanded and rechristened SJI in 2003.
“There are a lot of different ways to incorporate public interest into a career,” said Smock in an interview in her office in William and June Warren Hall. “There are a lot of overlaps between the private and public sector that I want to focus on.”
She also wants SJI to help students think about non-traditional careers that “lawyers could find very satisfying and meaningful,” such as community organizing, judicial strategy, working as an executive director of a nonprofit, or spearheading a private firm’s pro bono department.
Smock herself has traversed this varied legal terrain: Her resume includes two clerkships (one with federal judge Anita B. Brody ’58), a year at a private firm in San Francisco, and staff jobs at Legal Aid Services of Oregon and the Northwest Women’s Law Center (now Legal Voice) in Seattle.
During her previous tenure at the Law School, Smock developed several new ways to make SJI more effective and responsive. She started the Alumni Advising Network with offsite counselors in cities around the country so students can learn about their legal markets and what it’s like to live in various cities. She created resource guides, including a toolkit that she describes as “the ‘bible’ of the public interest job search.”
Smock knows that forging a public interest career requires focus and perseverance, especially because there are fewer jobs than in private firms and employers usually have very specific needs. “You have to be very careful to build your public interest resume and have a narrative about why you’ve done what you’ve done and what you hope to do in the future,” said Smock, adding that she enjoys hands-on advising, such as preparing students by conducting mock interviews.
Smock said she has begun a “listening tour” on campus to understand how SJI can engage the entire Law School community. “I’d like to do more collaboration and coordination among all the different student groups, faculty, centers, and others who are doing public interest work, and think creatively about sponsoring events and more broadly as a group,” she said.
As dean of SJI, Smock is giving back to her alma mater. “When I was a student, I really relied on this office for assistance in navigating my career, and I want to uphold that tradition and make sure we provide the services that students and alums need,” she said. “But I also want to think about how we can reinvent the office a little bit to respond to changing times and to be useful to employers, too.”
Posted on October 3, 2017