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Expat to Repat: 'Buffalonians really look out for each other,' young lawyer says

As an adolescent, Jessica Smith had to write an essay when she applied for a scholarship to attend Nichols School. It was the first time she successfully pleaded a case, but it wouldn't be the last.

Smith, 31, headed off to St. Lawrence University and achieved her bachelor’s degree in government in 2007. She toyed with the idea of law school, something that would allow her to use her talents to the best of her ability.

“I moved back to Buffalo for a few years to try and figure out if I really wanted to give it a try,” Smith said. “I got a taste of the legal profession by taking a few paralegal jobs just to be around the law. And I liked it.”

In 2010, instead of going to the University at Buffalo, Smith surprised her family and friends when she opted for Barry University Law School in Florida. She said she wanted to “try on a different pair of shoes” and see how they fit after having lived in New York for her entire life. She wanted to get out of her comfort zone.

Before law school, Smith confessed to being an extremely shy person. She didn’t like public speaking or talking to people she didn’t know. That changed after law school, thanks to all the public speaking and networking she had to do, as well as a semester abroad in Spain. Smith became more outgoing, open and adventurous. After passing the Florida bar exam, she headed to Washington, D.C., in January 2014 without any job prospects or money in the bank. Less than a month later, she landed a job with the Internal Revenue Service as a legal analyst in the criminal investigation department.

Jessica Smith at the Taste of Buffalo.

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Name: Jessica Smith
Age: 31
Current location: Downtown Buffalo
Previous locations: Florida and Washington, D.C.
Loved most about Washington, D.C.: All of the events that were held on any given day
Loves most about Buffalo: All of the new breweries, restaurants and Canalside

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“I love history. So, I loved being able to just walk around and visit places like the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. To see those types of things on a daily basis blew my mind. At the time, I didn’t feel the urge to go home or miss Buffalo in a way that made me want to move back.”

But after couple of months, Smith felt that her job wasn’t the best fit. She had gone to law school to become an attorney and “be in the trenches,” but at the IRS she was doing mostly compliance and analyst work. She wasn’t practicing law in the way she had hoped to be.

While she was in D.C., there was also a death in the family. “My father’s mother passed away. I had to scramble and figure out a way to get home quickly. I didn’t like that. I didn’t like being so far away when something like that happened. My family has always been very close, so I was also missing out on babies being born, birthdays, retirement parties and things like that. I didn’t like getting all the pictures on my phone while everyone else was there enjoying each other’s company face to face and having fun.”

Jessica Smith in Washington, D.C.

Smith ended up resigning from the IRS at the end of July 2015. By September 2015, she was back living with her parents and studying for the New York State bar exam, which she took in February 2016 and passed. She was hired in June by Neighborhood Legal Services – a legal organization that provides free services for people of low income and/or with disabilities.

“Before I found the job, I was working for the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo,” Smith said. “It got me out of the house and interacting with people, and took my mind off whether or not I passed the bar. I also spent the time networking. That’s one of the things I love about Buffalo. Buffalonians really look out for each other. The job I have now wouldn’t have come up without networking because I wouldn’t have even known it existed.”

Things have come full circle for Smith. She now lives in an apartment near Delaware Park, across the street from Nichols. As for her job – she’s happy using her voice to advocate cases for other people.

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If you or anyone you know has a story to tell about moving back to Buffalo, or about moving away, email LynsD21@gmail.com.

Lyndsey D'Arcangelo is a freelance writer. Visit her website at lyndseydarcangelo.com or follow her on Twitter @darcangel21.

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