Perfect Fit

Law student Kristen Smith finds community, opportunities thanks to scholarship


Kristen Smith, a native of Louisville, Kentucky, can enumerate many ways Vanderbilt Law School helped prepare her to thrive personally and professionally. As a self-described “Type A” personality, though, she says one stands out.

“During my time at Vanderbilt, I learned that I do not have to be perfect to be successful,” she said. “Coming to this realization has been a process, but it has also been really freeing. I am a lot more confident in myself and am willing to take risks.”

While the school helped her grow in this important way, Smith, who will graduate in 2023, also makes imperfection look pretty extraordinary. As an undergraduate, she majored in political science at the University of Kentucky. After finishing her bachelor’s degree a semester early, she interned with a lobbying firm where, she said, “the intersectionality between the government and legal fields underscored my interest in law school.”

Smith was drawn to Vanderbilt because the alumni she spoke with “talked about how fondly they thought of their law school experience—which isn’t always the case. Law school is inherently competitive, and the fact that Vanderbilt does not breed or promote that sense of competition is really important.”

When she learned she would receive the Weldon Wilson Scholarship, her decision was clear. “I am grateful to receive such a meaningful scholarship that allows me to attend a school that has been such a perfect fit for me,” Smith said.

In addition to her classwork, Smith is vice president of the Vanderbilt Bar Association and a member of Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law, and she participated in both the 1L Mock Trial Competition and the 2L Moot Court Competition.

"I am grateful to receive such a meaningful scholarship that allows me to attend a school that has been such a perfect fit for me."

Smith spent this past summer as an associate with King & Spalding LLP in Chicago and has accepted an offer to join the firm after graduation. She will be working with the firm’s renowned Special Matters and Government Investigations group, which handles matters such as white-collar defense and antitrust violations.

“It is very impactful, sensitive work with societal implications and true human connection,” Smith said.

The division is led by Zach Fardon, BA’88, JD’92, who also is managing partner of the firm’s Chicago office. Smith looks forward to working with Fardon, who is a current member of the Vanderbilt Law School Board of Advisors, because he imbues the division with the same supportive culture found at Vanderbilt and because of his professional background, which includes time as a United States attorney.

“I really value the fact that people with this profound level of experience will be my mentors,” Smith said.

As she approaches the end of her time at Vanderbilt, Smith finds herself echoing the alumni she spoke with as a recruit. “I’m excited to move to Chicago and start my career,” she said, “but I am also really sad to leave law school.

“I don’t think this is the same experience shared by people at other schools,” she added. “The fact that my friends and I feel this way is a testament to the community at Vanderbilt Law School.”

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