by Nicholas Smith ’11

One of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done was argue my fictional client’s Motion for Summary Judgment in front of the whole class during my third year of law school. The motion basically asks the “judge”—in this case, my professor—to rule that the other party has no case. Oral arguments on this kind of motion usually last no more than ten minutes or so, but mine seemed to last an eternity. But the facts of that made-up case in law school are not nearly as important as the milestone that assignment now represents in my professional development. Learning how to sift through the facts in a case, research the applicable law, and apply it is the bread and butter of the legal profession, and I am grateful to have honed this skillset in law school. But my training in advocacy did not begin there. 

In my very first quarter as a History major at La Sierra University, I took Dr. Kohlmeier’s Critical Analysis class. In it, I learned how to research and write persuasively on a given topic, and to present my research to the class in a 15-minute “oral argument,” with time at the end for questions. Wanting to challenge myself, I presented a defense of the Affordable Care Act. As this was a “hot button” issue then (and apparently now), my peers were not afraid of asking tough questions, and thankfully I was prepared with answers. Working with Dr. Kohlmeier through this research and writing process helped me to appreciate the importance of preparation and of being receptive and responsive to my audience.

Nick Smith with his family.

Another pivotal stepping stone in my professional development came in the summer between my junior and senior year at La Sierra. At that time, the Department of History, Politics & Sociology selected one or two students each year to have the option of completing a summer internship for course credit, called a “Directed Study.” The purpose of this program was to give some of those students interested in law the opportunity to work in a real legal setting, gaining practical experience with structured educational components. Excited to have been selected for this opportunity, I reached out to an attorney I knew from church to see if he would be willing to “take me under his wing” as a student intern for the summer. Thankfully, he was more than willing. I spent that entire summer assisting civil defense attorneys in all aspects of litigation, including legal research, discovery and even motion practice. I am confident that, had it not been for the Directed Study available to me through La Sierra, I would not have had this invaluable experience and made some lasting connections.

My transformative experience at La Sierra wasn’t just about the roots of my professional journey, though—what made it so much more special were the lasting connections I made with my peers, many of whom have remained great friends to this day. My on-campus job working at the circulation desk in the Library proved to be a great way to meet people, including my wife, Darcy. In fact, I proposed to her in front of La Sierra Hall, where we took numerous classes together. Darcy and I have been together for ten years now, and we have a beautiful 3-year-old boy (with another on the way). They bring so much love and joy into my life and are a daily reminder of yet another way God has blessed me as an alumnus of La Sierra!