The Charleston School of Law recently sat down with Professor Lisa Smith-Butler to talk about her passion for teaching the law, her love of art and travel. Professor Smith-Butler is an associate professor of law. She teaches Children and the Law, Professional Responsibility, Torts, and Workplace Privacy.

Charleston School of Law: Where did you grow up?

Professor Smith-Butler: I grew up in Macon, Georgia.

Charleston School of Law: What are your passions outside of the law?

I love to read fiction and enjoy gardening and traveling.

Charleston School of Law: What do you read?

Professor Smith-Butler: Anything I can get my hands on!  I enjoy mysteries, fiction, and some biographies.  Right now, I am reading Kathy Reich’s The Bone Code. I have the latest Deborah Crombie by the table waiting for me as well as Geraldine Brooks’, Horse, and Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperfield

I have a stack of books I got for Christmas that I’m working through slowly. I don’t have much time during the semester to read other than what I have assigned my students. 

Charleston School of Law: What about gardening?

I live on James Island and allegedly have a 600-year-old oak tree in my back yard named Esmeralda. It is 22 feet in diameter, and it is the centerpiece of the yard.  My upstairs study and desk overlook the tree.   It is fascinating to sit there and watch the squirrels climb everywhere, including upside down, while birds make nests in the tree.

Charleston School of Law: It sounds like a great reading space too.

Professor Smith-Butler: It is.  It also has a strained glass replica of the Morris Island lighthouse, stained glass shells, and a strained glass beagle in the window.  I love stained glass which probably came from my time as a child in Macon.  I went to an 1890s Baptist church, Vineville Baptist Church, which had huge stained-glass windows.   They made quite an impression on me, and I’ve been seeking out stained glass shops out ever since.

Let’s go back to your book. What are you reading right now?

I am starting Deborah Crombie’s A Killing of Innocents.

Charleston School of Law: Do you have siblings?

Professor Smith-Butler: I have a younger brother, that I call my “baby brother.” He is a journalist, lives in midtown in Atlanta, and works for CNN.

Charleston School of Law: When you retire, what are your plans?

Professor Smith-Butler: My husband and I want to travel. St. Petersburg, Russia is on my bucket list but given the international situation, I am not sure that I will be able to cross it off. My husband wants to travel down the Nile and see the Pyramids.  We are both excited about traveling.

I am also interested in working with literacy as it matters a great deal to me. My granddaughter, who is in the first grade, has spent a 1/3 of her life in a mask because of the pandemic. Watching her and her friends has made me realize the huge impact that the pandemic and masks have had on the ability of young children to read, learn, and socialize. That’s one of the things I want to work with: literacy. If you can’t read, so many things are closed off to you.

Charleston School of Law:  What is something unusual about you that most others don’t know?

I have a collection of rubber ducks. I have Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Pharoah, Sherlock Holmes, and many other ducks. A friend and former colleague from a school in Florida, launched me with this collection.

Charleston School of Law: How many ducks do you have?

Professor Smith-Butler: Somewhere between 75 to 100.

Charleston School of Law: Are they at home or at they’re office?

Professor Smith-Butler: Most of them are at home in the bathroom, on the bathtub. My grandchildren, when they come, love them.  I have a few in my office. They’re all rubber ducks.

Charleston School of Law: Where did you go to school?

I went to college and law school in Nebraska while going to library school in Atlanta, Ga.

How did you get to Nebraska?

Professor Smith-Butler: I got married and moved with my husband who was in the United Methodist Church.  His first job was in Harvard, Nebraska. Once I got my JD we moved back south where our families were.

You practiced law and were a librarian. What led you to teaching?

Professor Smith-Butler: I joined the Academy shortly after my daughter was born.  I needed a more accommodating schedule than practicing permitted.  I loved research and wanted to do something that involved research.  The library was the perfect place for that.  One of my favorite subjects is legal research. Teaching legal research eventually led me to teaching full time.  I love watching students struggle with and then suddenly understand a concept.  I enjoy the give and take with students, and I learn a lot from them too.

What did you study in your undergraduate?

Professor Smith-Butler: I was an English major.

Charleston School of Law: Did you have a sense that you were going to teach or write or what? What was your passion then?

Professor Smith-Butler: I wanted to write. I love words.  When I was about 3 1/2 years old, we went to a house in Macon to pick out puppies for myself and my cousin. The husband showed us around, minding the children and the puppies, while his wife tapped out a column for the local newspaper on her typewriter on the porch. The wife ignored the noise and chaos, typing whatever thoughts entered her head. In 1963 in Macon, it was an amazing sight.  Right then, I knew that was what I wanted to do: write.

Writing was my passion. I wanted to write but knew that I needed to support myself so planned to support myself by teaching. At the time that I was finishing my B.A. in the very early 1980s, there were a glut of unemployed literature Ph.Ds. on the market. I had to make the decision between pursuing my passion or being practical. My father was a lawyer, so he encouraged me to be practical. I chose to be practical, and I went to law school. I still get to play with words and use them but am hoping to indulge creativity when I retire.

Professor Lisa Smith-Butler

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