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Joseph F. Rice School of Law

Q&A with Sheila Willis '11

Why did you choose to attend the South Carolina School of Law?  

I chose South Carolina Law because it had a great reputation. I saw myself practicing here and wanted to take advantage of that network. I also had friends and colleagues who spoke highly of the school. And I’m from South Carolina. 

Were any family or friends surprised when you chose to pursue law? 

When I was seven or eight, I got a birthday present and it was a green pillow that said, “Talk is cheap unless you're talking to a lawyer.” I still have that green pillowcase from my mother. So, there was an understanding that I was going to go to law school. I think I, like many people, have gotten this feedback, that a) I like to argue and b) I talk a lot – back then it was called bossy, now it's called leadership. I really wanted to be a lawyer, so I don't think anyone was surprised that I decided to go to law school. 

What was it that made you want to become a lawyer? 

I recall seeing on TV that lawyers seem cool. Ally McBeal was such a great show. I remember thinking their jobs seemed so fun. They got to argue, they got to help people, and they seemed to make a good living. And those were all things that were of interest. I had no lawyers in my family. I did not know any lawyers. I just thought, this is a skill set and I'm going to pursue it.  

Was there anything you loved about attending South Carolina Law, or anything you were particularly grateful for?  

I really enjoyed the camaraderie and fellowship of my classmates. I enjoyed being around people who also had a passion for learning and getting things right. There is something to be said about being around people with shared values and aspirations. I worked before going to law school for about two years and having that experience was helpful. Having professional experience and a greater appreciation for the outside world can give you a better understanding of how to navigate law school. 

What organizations or groups were you involved in when you were in law school? 

I was involved in Mock Trial, the Student Bar Association, Student Government, and the Black Law Students Association. That’s one thing I liked about law school: there were opportunities to try different things. One of the attorneys I worked for during law school was involved in The Cinderella Project, which became one of my most favorite things I’ve ever done. I was happy to find opportunities to connect with all sorts of people at USC. 

Do you still volunteer in the community? 

I do – I’m always happy to come speak or join panels. I'm on the board of governors for the SC Bar, and on the boards for Trustus Theatre, Riverbanks Zoo, and the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. Many of those opportunities have been related to the connections I've made, whether as a law student or from the law degree I earned. The life I've been able to build is directly related to the experience and skills that I got at the University of South Carolina School of Law.  

Did you have any impactful mentors during your time in law school, or anyone you are mentoring you’re proud of? 

Yeah, Professor Susan Kuo is the best, and Professor Joe Seiner, too. Kamri Barber is someone that I mentor – I'm so proud of that girl. She has done some incredible stuff. She came up after I spoke at the law school years ago to ask if we could have coffee. She kept in contact, and it's been cool to watch her grow from being a 1L to now starting her second year as an associate at a firm. 

Do you keep in touch with any classmates from your law school days? 

With how intricately connected the SC Bar is, I run into them all the time. I'm on the board for Junior League this coming year with someone from my law school class. I see them in opposing counsel, I see them in text threads. It’s cool to see when we’re going in similar directions in our careers. My best friend from law school, she and I both made partner within two years of each other at different firms. It’s amazing thinking about how we were in the trenches studying for torts and now we're partners at law firms. 

What advice do you have for prospective students? 

I would say if you're on the fence about going to law school, go. It's really a wonderful experience. Take it one day at a time and remember that you're running your own race. Stay in your lane and excel as well as you can. You're going to be fine. 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.