Every year, The University of Alabama School of Law awards one fortunate student the Frank M. Johnson, Jr. Memorial Endowed Scholarship. Tyler Smoot, an Alabama Law 3L student, has been the recipient of this scholarship for the past two years, and he credits the financial support of this endowment for enabling him to earn his law degree.
“I never would have been able to go to law school in the first place without my tuition being covered. I have a wife and two kids and because of this scholarship my kids are able to have food on the table and go to daycare while I earn my degree,” Smoot explained.
Smoot has a diverse educational background with degrees from both Baylor and Duke where he studied religion and divinity. He stated that he was motivated to apply to law school after working for several years with the Northcott Neighborhood House in Milwaukee—where he assisted adult students who were studying to earn their GED. He noticed that many of the students had criminal backgrounds and had gone directly from high school into the prison system. This inspired Smoot to start serving the public in a different way—through the study and practice of law.
Smoot said that he is grateful for his particular scholarship not only because of the financial assistance, but because it also helped him form a connection to a legendary figure in the state he now calls home.
Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr. was a United States District Judge of Alabama and Alabama Law alum who became famous for his landmark civil rights rulings that attempted to end segregation and the unfair treatment of black southern citizens. Smoot described how he submitted a blanket application for all merit-based scholarships but was incredibly moved to be receiving one in dedication to a civil rights giant.
“He was making the right decisions when that wasn’t the easiest thing to do, and I sort of want to follow the same path so receiving this scholarship really made me feel connected to the state where I plan to live for the long haul,” Smoot described.
After Smoot’s graduation in May of this year, he plans to clerk with a federal judge in Birmingham, something Smoot says is a common path for law graduates in their first year. He is eager to work with Judge Karen Bowdre because of their shared interest in criminal justice reform. After his year clerking, Smoot hopes to lead a career in civil rights law, possibly with the Southern Poverty Law Center with whom he currently clerks. He also expressed gratitude for the scholarship board members that have met with him and said that they have been very forthcoming with offers for networking assistance post-graduation.
When speaking about his quickly approaching future, Smoot credited the Frank M. Johnson, Jr. scholarship with a large stake in setting him up for success. “Because of this scholarship, I can actually find a job in something I’m passionate about instead of settling for the first one I’m offered because I’m worried about my debt. I can focus on creating some positive change and I’m just really glad that someone, somewhere believed in me.”
Written by: Heather Gann
If you would like to join in financially supporting the success of Alabama Law students, please consider making a donation to the Alabama Law Alumni Society, which provides resources for students in the form of scholarships, stipends for internships and externships, and other purposes that are central to our mission of training the very best lawyers for the 21st century.