Father, daughter attend law school, take bar exam together

By STEPHANIE WARSMITH Akron Beacon Journal
AKRON, Ohio (AP) — Some families have a swear jar. The Smiths have a bar jar.
Every time Tim or his daughter Sarah talk about the bar or any legal topic, they must put $1 into the jar.
It fills up quickly.
The Akron father and daughter attended the University of Akron law school together and took the bar at the same time, so they were consumed by law for several years, sometimes driving their family crazy.
“We tried not to talk about it,” Sarah said.
“It was impossible!” Tim agreed.
Tim and Sarah Smith recently made history, becoming the first father and daughter in Ohio to take the bar exam at the same time. This followed another first when they attended the University of Akron law school together, a feat achieved by siblings and spouses but never by a parent and child simultaneously.
The duo won’t find out until April 26 whether they passed the grueling bar exam, which they took Feb. 26-28. The Beacon Journal recently talked with the Smiths at the family’s Highland Square home about how they survived their unique, challenging journey — together.
Tim Smith was studying for the LSAT, an exam required to get into law school, in 2014 when Sarah came into the family room.
“Oh, what’s that?” she asked.
“Take a look,” Tim suggested, showing her a logic problem.
She figured it out, while he struggled, foreshadowing how the two of them would later do in many of their law classes.
That single success prompted Sarah to consider joining her father in seeking a law degree.
The father and daughter were at career crossroads. Tim, now 53, was a patent agent at GOJO Industries and thought the next logical step was to become a patent attorney. Sarah, now 27, was working in human resources where she regularly consulted with an attorney before making decisions. She thought it was time she became the one others consulted.
Tim and Sarah passed the LSAT and were accepted at UA’s law school, starting evening classes in the fall of 2015.
At orientation, they made five friends who fell between their ages and became a study group that helped guide them through law school. The tight-knit group took many of the same courses, sat together in class and gathered to cram for finals.
Many others, though, remained oblivious to the relationship between Tim and Sarah.
With a last name like Smith, it wasn’t difficult for the family connection to go undetected.
Professor John Sahl, however, who had the duo in his evidence class, became curious about the relationship.
“Uncle and niece? What’s the relation?” he asked.
“Father and daughter,” Tim answered.
“No way!” said Sahl, who is no stranger to family connections, with his wife, Joann, also teaching in the UA law school.
John Sahl said the Smiths were a pleasure to have in class — and both were prepared when he cold-called on them. He said seeing the two sitting together in class and studying with their group made him wonder if he and his daughter would get along that well.
“Their presence — I think — had a really nice effect on the class,” said Sahl, who has taught at UA since 1991. “My sense was everybody appreciated the fact that they were a father-daughter team.”
Sahl said the Smiths were always professional and warm and had nice smiles.
Tim said it was good to know when he showed up for class that Sarah’s friendly face would greet him. He often picked up Starbucks en route from GOJO to the law school — a latte for him and a caramel macchiato for her — to help keep them alert during their classes that ran as late as 10 p.m.
Sarah enjoyed the coffee and also liked having someone she could ask, “Did I sound stupid answering that question?” whom she could count on for an honest answer.
The two of them, however, often disagreed on whether a judge got it right with the court cases they studied. They figure this helped them to consider both sides.
Asked her least favorite class, Sarah said it would be a tie between torts and tax law.
Tim said his was property law because of the many odd rules.
Hearing this, Sarah then wanted to change her answer.
“I’m copying off you!” she joked.
Tim said Sarah often got a letter grade higher than he did on assignments, even though he sometimes put in more study time. But, he said, this didn’t bother him.
“I’m fine with that,” he said. “It was never a competition.”
“You did well,” Sarah told him.
The Smiths finished their classes and graduated in December, though they won’t walk across the stage together until May when the annual law school commencement will be held. They moved straight from this milestone to a 10-week course to prep for the bar.
As they waited in line to take the bar, Tim put his arm around Sarah and told her, “We can do this.”
A test proctor came up to them and asked if they were the father and daughter pair.
“Well, yes we are!” Sarah answered.
They continued to offer encouragement to each other as they took the exam, sending each other texts, often featuring exhausted-looking emojis.
“That level of understanding helped drive us forward,” Tim said.
Neither is certain how they did. Both will be waiting on pins and needles for the results, along with the 375 other Ohioans who took the latest bar.
A few days after the bar, the family took a Caribbean cruise to celebrate. That’s where the bar jar came out to make the trip more enjoyable for Betty Smith and her son, Samuel, 23, who needed a break from the law almost as much as Tim and Sarah.
Betty is proud of her husband and daughter for what they accomplished and how much they bonded through the experience.
“I didn’t expect this to cause an issue in their relationship,” she said. “They had the same group of friends. They were closer than I thought they would be through this.”
Tim is continuing to work at GOJO, where he hopes he can soon change his title to attorney, while Sarah took her career in a whole new direction. She is working as a law clerk for Judge Cynthia Westcott Rice in the 11th District Court of Appeals. She loves her new job and, if she passes the bar, will become a judicial attorney.
Someday, Sarah thinks, she may want to run for judge. If she does, she’ll have at least one big supporter.
“You would be really good at it!” her dad said, smiling.