Sarah and Tim Smith, the first father and daughter to attend the University of Akron law school and take the bar exam at the same, anxiously pulled up the list of people who passed the bar Friday morning.
Scrolling through the list, they saw “Smith, Sarah” but no “Smith, Tim” on the list.
“Congratulations,” Tim told his daughter via FaceTime.
“I’m so sorry, Dad,” Sarah responded.
It was a bittersweet outcome for the Smiths, who made history with their joint law-degree odyssey and had many family and friends hoping they’d reach another milestone by passing the bar at the same time.
“We really wanted it to be the same,” Sarah said, getting choked up. “Our worth is not our results. We are friends and family. We’re OK."
Of the 378 aspiring attorneys who took the bar exam in February, just over half of them passed. Of the 165 first-time test takers, 66 percent passed, according to the Ohio Supreme Court.
UA law students performed well overall, with 81 percent of first-time takers passing and an overall pass rate of 69 percent. These results were second only to Case Western Reserve University and the best among public universities.
"I want to recognize the hard work of all our graduates who prepared for the February exam," Christopher Peters, UA's law dean, said in a prepared statement. "And I want to heartily congratulate those 37 graduates who passed the bar this time."
Sarah and Tim Smith, both from Akron, decided in 2014 to attend law school together. Both were at a crossroads in their careers. 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.
The Smiths began taking evening classes at UA’s law school in the fall of 2015. At orientation, they met a group of friends who fell between their ages and became a tight-knit study group that took many of the same courses, sat together in class and jointly crammed for exams.
As they progressed through the program, they caught the attention of other students and professors.
“Everybody appreciated the fact that they were a father-daughter team,” said Professor John “Jack” Sahl, who had the Smiths in his evidence class.
Sarah often got a letter grade higher than her father on assignments, although he sometimes put in more study time. He told the Beacon Journal, though, in a March interview that this didn’t bother him.
“It was never a competition,” he said.
The Smiths finished their classes and graduated in December, although they won’t walk across the stage until May 19 when the annual law school commencement will be held. Sarah plans to get her diploma and then wait for her father to get his, so the two of them can pause for a quick joint picture.
Tim is continuing to work at GOJO, while Sarah took her career in a new direction. She is working as a law clerk for Judge Cynthia Westcott Rice in the 11th District Court of Appeals. Because she passed the bar, she will become Rice’s judicial attorney. She hopes some day to run for judge.
Tim, who didn’t feel up to talking Friday, will likely take the bar again July 30-Aug. 1.
Sahl said his heart was torn when he heard about the Smiths' results because he was happy for Sarah but disappointed for Tim. He said students who don't pass on the first try often do on the next attempt. He said he knows of many successful lawyers and judges who initially didn't pass the bar.
"It’s certainly a disappointment for the bar taker," said Sahl, who has taught at UA since 1991. "Typically, when they do not pass, they double down for the second time. They usually succeed."
Sarah is confident her dad will pass.
“He’s smart enough,” she said. “He definitely has that in him — and we’ll celebrate thoroughly in October!”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.