"I wanted to go to law school as long as I can remember,” recalled WMU-Cooley law student Valerie Smith.
Yet it wasn’t until the single mother of three got the go ahead from her children that she had the courage to pursue her dream.
“I remember coming home one day from my job as a paralegal,” said Smith. “I remember being frustrated. I was 40-years-old. A single mother of two daughters and a son. I was struggling to pay bills, even though I was working very, very hard.
“My kids sat me down to talk. They reminded me of my dream of going to law school and becoming an attorney. My oldest daughter said, ‘Mom, it’s never too late, and you’re never too old.'”
That was it. Smith took the LSAT, then applied and was accepted to WMU-Cooley Law School.
“That day changed my life forever,” declared Smith.
Advocate for Other People
“I will never forget the day I was accepted to WMU-Cooley Law School,” exclaimed Smith. “I had been really busy because I had just moved, and hadn’t checked my e-mail for several days. During a break at work though, I decided I would take a look. I saw an email from WMU-Cooley Law School congratulating me on my seat! I started screaming in my office and one of the attorneys came running over to me and said, ‘Valerie, are you alright?’ And I said, ‘Yes!’ as I burst into tears. ‘This is one of the happiest moments of my life. I just got accepted to law school, counselor!’ And he said, ‘Well, congratulations, future counselor!'”
Since starting law school, Smith confesses that she has learned as much about life and herself as she has about the law.
“My first day at WMU-Cooley,” recalled Smith, “the professors told our class that attorneys have others’ lives in their hands – just like a doctor does with our physical well-being, an attorney has others’ lives in our hands – maybe not physically or medically, but financially, emotionally, mentally, situationally, and legally. It is a huge responsibility. We need to be their advocates.”
Smith says she has never forgotten that lesson. She comes to class every day prepared and ready to be another’s true advocate.
“I value my legal education here at WMU-Cooley,” stated Smith. “I never take it for granted. I am here to help my colleagues, and they are always here to help me. Even my 20-something-year-old classmates support, help and encourage me. I’ve never felt like an outsider, but that I belong.
“The professors have been so encouraging and have given me so many opportunities. They made it possible for me to participate in the law school’s study abroad program in New Zealand, which was an experience of a lifetime that I never thought would be possible. And I was also given the opportunity to be a professor’s teaching assistant.”
Smith believes the WMU-Cooley curriculum and people are second to none.
“The curriculum at WMU-Cooley is so challenging, amazing, interesting, and intriguing, but it’s the people that stand out,” declared Smith. “There is a vibe here at WMU-Cooley that I don’t think you will find at most other law schools. That vibe includes enthusiasm and due diligence. It includes positive attitudes and commitment. And the encouragement you receive among the staff, professors, and students is contagious.
“We are an energized, diverse group of people who all have the same goal. We just want to be lawyers and save lives.”