Catherine Smith: My Story

We all go through stuff; it’s part of life. But how we respond to our success — and our failures — reveals our character.

Enter: Catherine Smith, a 2021-22 first-year student at Charleston School of Law. She knows all about stuff. She has experienced stuff – a lot of it.

What kind of stuff, you ask?

In one 30-minute conversation she revealed:

  1. She changed high schools because she was bullied.
  2. Her best friend committed suicide her senior year of high school, which triggered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  3. In September, less than a month after moving to Charleston and the same week of her first assessment, her mother contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalized. She was put in intensive care with acute bronchitis and pneumonia in her lungs.
  4. She has never met her father. Out of the blue, he did message her on Facebook to wish her happy birthday.
  5. Last summer, she packed her car and moved from Wisconsin to South Carolina to attend law school.

That kind of stuff. Life-changing stuff.

“It’s just one thing after another,” she said.

Catherine Smith is not alone. She knows it – and, if you are/were a law school student – you may be nodding and confirming that, yes, the struggle is real. It is “a thing,” especially in the world of first-year students.

Reading. Preparing for exams. More reading. Preparing for assessments. Keep reading. Classes. Did you read? Add to the stress of law school studies, work, family, and social life (stop laughing). Now let’s add to the mix, the disruptive force of COVID-19, and it can be paralyzing.

“Coming from that single parent home, a single income home, I worked three jobs when I was an undergrad,” said Smith. “Financially, law school was not feasible. Then, COVID hit everyone pretty dang hard.”

During her senior year in college, Smith took the LSAT. She spent the next month studying. It paid off. Smith said she scored “relatively well,” good enough in fact to apply to 11 different law schools in the Midwest.

“I talked with my godmother, and she told me about her time in Charleston,” she said. “Then I saw Charleston School of Law and I loved how relatively new it was to the area and I decided to apply.”

Not long after she pushed the submit button on her application, Smith received a call from Charleston School of Law Dean Jacqueline Bell. She had been accepted to attend the school.

“I was in tears on the phone,” she remembers. “I was like, this is the best day of my life. I was just sitting there on the couch with all my sorority sisters around me just holding me at that point.”

After visiting Charleston, Smith decided to accept the offer to attend Charleston School of Law.

“I was here for four days by myself,” she said. “I never traveled by myself before. I had never flown by myself before. I did it all completely by myself. I love the area. I love the people. I loved the school. I just decided to pack up all my stuff and my dog in my Traverse and move down here. That’s how I got here.”

Then, just a month into her new adventure, Catherine’s mother called to tell her she had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

“She was hospitalized and put in intensive care,” she said. “My mom had acute bronchitis along with a progressive stage of pneumonia in her lungs. Her oxygen levels were so low she could barely breathe. It began affecting her mental health. She started getting delusional.”

Lawyers are trained to be prepared; it is the foundation for success. Training the mind for all the potential twists and turns minimizes the risk of failure. But what happens when you are blindsided by life?

“I hit rock bottom, to be completely honest with you,” said Smith. “It was kind of unbelievable. It felt like I was watching the world moving and I was stuck. But I knew that there’s only so much that I can do 15 ½ hours away. That’s something I kept telling myself. I couldn’t come home on the weekend and be here with someone that I can’t even be around because they have COVID, and then possibly bring it back.”

She decided to stay in Charleston, a decision that she still haunts her from time-to-time. “I definitely have guilt,” she said. “It was a selfish moment, choosing yourself above everyone else. I knew that my mom had COVID. For me, I was separating my emotions from what I needed to get done.”

“I learned so much about myself,” she said. “I’ve always lived by the saying, ‘When you hit rock bottom, all you have is up.’ I realized my own strength. My mom raised me on that strength.”

How can we help?

Charleston School of Law knows some students wrestle with unforeseen stress and/or anxiety. If you are going through a personal or family crisis and would like to talk to someone confidentially, we encourage you to reach out. Our student services department offers counseling programs designed to serve our students.

Charleston Law has partnered with the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) to provide professional, confidential counseling services to all students enrolled in both the full-time and part-time programs. Services include — but are not limited to — assessment services, therapy, mental health evaluations, and referrals. Services also include up to five (5) therapy sessions following a student assessment, and appropriate referrals for treatment or follow-up.

If you would like to request a counseling session, please contact the Associate Dean of Students at (843) 377-2149 or MUSC at (843) 792-2848.


The Charleston School of Law is an ABA-accredited law school nationally recognized for its student-centric culture. Our faculty and staff are committed to preparing you for success both in the classroom and in the legal profession.

  • The Princeton Review ranks Charleston School of Law professors second in the country for faculty accessibility (2021)

  • Charleston School of Law faculty ranked among the top of The Princeton Review’s list of Best Professors in the nation (2016-2018)

  • Experiential Learning: Charleston School of Law students have access to about more than 150 externship sites, creating opportunities for experiential learning in the legal field.

  • Community Service: Charleston School of Law students have performed more than 241,000 community service hours (2004-current).

  • Students have won the National Tax Moot Court Championship for seven consecutive years (2012-2018)