The Daily Gamecock

Lawyers liven up SC

Meet and greet professionals' anecdotes encourage consdieration of legal profession


Several of South Carolina’s greatest law minds gathered at USC Thursday evening, not to defend or prosecute but to inspire pre-law students to continue their track toward a Juris Doctorate.

The annual pre-law meet and greet hosted prominent members of the Columbia community, including Attorney General Alan Wilson and Judge Leslie Riddle. Other speakers were University of South Carolina law professor Michael Virzi, family court lawyers Shannon Chandler and Judith Whiting and recent USC law graduate Michael Wright.

“When I was in college I majored in girls and minored in Jim Beam,” Wilson announced, shattering the prospect of a dull discussion. “I had no clue I wanted to be a lawyer.”

Each speaker gave a brief description of his or her background, revealing two surprising details: None had ever planned on becoming lawyers, and none had expected to enter the kind of law they are currently practicing.

“One of the main points today is to show that there are many options for lawyers,” Virzi said.

Virzi began his career in business litigation then worked at the South Carolina Supreme Court. He was later hired at USC to teach law writing.

“My job is nothing like his,” Riddle said in a strong Southern accent. “My day is full of sex and violence.”

The feisty judge went to law school after unexpectedly deciding that a career in teaching wasn’t for her. Riddle is now an elected family court judge, despite her expectations of becoming a trial lawyer during school. She didn’t graduate top of her class from Clemson and joked “I was probably right there with your attorney general.”

All of the professionals suggested volunteering at a firm or in the attorney general’s office before deciding on a future. Being a court clerk was an extremely beneficial experience for both Wilson and Wright.

“I’m still working as a court clerk, and I graduated in 2009,” Wright said. “I learn a lot, and it boosts the confidence I have in my law abilities after watching some of these other knuckleheads with their cases.”

Chandler stood out as another example of an unconventional lawyer. At age 65, he has only been practicing law for the past seven years. After accumulating three graduate degrees in social work from USC, Chandler became bored and decided one day that she’d go to law school.

“Law school was by far the worst three years of my life,” Chandler said with a chuckle. “They were horrible, but I listened to a friend when she said, ‘Just because you hate law school doesn’t mean you’ll hate practicing.’ Since I’ve graduated, I’ve had the most fun ever.”

The meet and greet is coordinated yearly by the Office of Pre-Professional Advisement, which helps students prepare for law, pharmacy, medical or health school after graduation.

“We assist students by guiding them in the correct direction so they can go to their school of choice,” Program Coordinator Sydney Botelho said. “We make sure they have enough community service hours, internships and the things they need to be successful.”

Unlike many students who change majors after their first year, pre-law students tend to stick with their desire to go to law school and eventually make it there, according to Botelho.