Legacy Lawyer: Jessie L. Smith

Contributor Jessie L. Smith, Esq. Harrisburg, PA, Co-Chair Pennsylvania Bar Association Women in the Profession Commission 

Jessie L. Smith is a recently retired government and private practice trial attorney. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at Dickinson Law, as a Dauphin County Court Arbitrator, and in many local and state bar association roles focusing on leadership, Continuing Education programs and diversity and inclusion initiatives. She is currently the Co-Chair of the PBA Women in the Profession Commission and Chair of its Agricultural Law Committee. She trained as a mediator, and established the first Certified State Mediation Program for PA. Ms. Smith is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and the Pennsylvania State University.

Who I Am
I was one of the first women trial lawyers in many of the rural courts in which I practiced. I mentor, am committed to diversity, and am very active in state and local bar associations. I have a wide circle of professional acquaintances and spend time networking, referring, and getting and sharing information.

This I Believe
I believe in kindness. I believe in finding win-win situations, getting to yes, persistence and never giving up; integrity and trying new and challenging things.

What I Love about Practicing Law
Working with smart people, learning, insight into your community, uncovering motivations, wearing the white hat, writing and speaking, being able to converse with anyone, solving problems, accomplishing something complex and difficult, and being an advocate.

Lessons Learned

  1. There is a time to leave a job –a success peak or if you have an enemy there –and you should leave then so that you preserve your reputation, and avoid spending time in Machiavellian strategizing to outmaneuver your enemy.
  2. Try to learn everything you can from a workplace, factual and legal info, even if it’s not what you’re doing there.
  3. If you hate doing something, find a way to not do it, and don’t pretend you enjoy it, as you’ll just get more of it to do.

Personal & Professional Habits

  1. I have three large dogs, have always had dogs, and they entertain me as well as provide me with personal safety, home security, exercise, problem solving opportunities, and the discipline of caring for them daily.
  2. I do things at home to relax and think about something totally different –for me that’s cooking and “home economics” –care of an old house, arts events, and reading outside the law.
  3. I’ve been on several nonprofit boards and learned a lot from this.
  4. I read the Unity Daily Word, a booklet with a short daily ecumenical  message about positive thinking and practices and helping others.
  5. I go out to lunch at least once a week, with various people not just work-related, and to different places.
  6. I am not an early person so I schedule important things later in the day if at all possible –push yourself but don’t fight yourself.

Welcome to the Practice of Law

  1. Don’t complain to your peers –complain to someone who can solve the problem.
  2. Keep up you network of non-lawyer friends and contacts.
  3. If you aspire to some position (judge, legislator), get to know one well so you know what is actually involved and can go to that person as a mentor and sounding board.
  4. Learn the power and structure of your workplace –becoming close to someone who is negatively perceived or powerless, especially if they have been there a while, can actually be harmful to your reputation there, and their advice will be unhelpful.
  5. Do things to meet other lawyers in social settings.
  6. Fight for what you want, don’t acquiesce, compromise only for something better –with as much diplomacy as you can bring to the situation without weakening your message.
  7. Learn from the sales field –keep notes in your Outlook Contacts of the people you meet –where you met them, common ground, personal interest –you will NOT remember this stuff unless you do. This makes every conversation easier and shows your genuine interest in that person.

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