She called all the law offices in Columbia when she was 15, now she’s a J.D.

Tenacity is at the heart of what it means to be a lawyer. For Clair Hollingsworth, it’s a skill she never really had to practice. The passionate 25-year-old graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law in May 2017. It was a goal she had set for herself long before she could vote, before she had a high school diploma, and even before she could drive a car. She was the daughter of an engineer and a teacher, but by age 15, she knew she wanted to practice law.

“We didn’t have any friends or family who were attorneys or knew anyone that I could talk to about learning more about the law, so I decided that I’d just put myself out there and give every law office in the Columbia and Lexington area a call to see if anyone would be interested in hiring a 15-year-old who wanted to go to law school one day,” said Hollingsworth. “I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted out of the experience.  I just knew that I needed to get to know some attorneys if I was ever going to get to law school.”

Thumbing through the phone book, she called firms for hours, hoping to reach someone willing to teach her. And then one said yes.

“I was very impressed that a 15-year-old was bold and courageous enough to call a lawyer’s office inquiring about a job. I admired her as soon as I met her,” said Jim Snell (’04), a criminal defense attorney in Lexington, South Carolina.

Hollingsworth recalls doing her research before the interview–even having her mom drive past the firm to make sure she knew where to go, and how much time she would need to arrive early. Her mom took her to the mall and bought Clair her first suit, perfect for a budding attorney.

“I remember being really nervous, but also really excited to talk to a real-life lawyer.”

Jim, Clair and Lee at the Palmetto Club at a 2016 fundraiser for Solicitor Rick Hubbard.

That real-life lawyer gave Hollingsworth her first real-life job, but while Hollingsworth thought she’d just be learning about the law, over the years she realized that the Snells were teaching her about real-life.

“Jim and his wife Lee helped me apply for colleges and supported pretty much all of my endeavors. I always refer to them as my family because I’ve known them for so long and they’ve done so much for me.”

Nearly ten years after Snell received a call from that 15-year-old girl interested in being a lawyer, he watched her walk across the stage of her law school graduation. He calls the moment “bittersweet,” watching Clair achieve a long-time goal, while also saying “see you later,” to someone he considered like a daughter.

“Clair will make a great lawyer because she has worked tirelessly to be where she is today. She sincerely wants to be a lawyer and she loves the law,” said Snell. “My wife says Gloria Allred needs to ‘step aside’ because we are about to witness history in some way when Clair passes the bar.”

And while Snell credits much of Hollingsworth’s success to her own drive and skills, Hollingsworth says it was those who came before who have truly encouraged her career.

“USC Law trained the attorneys that inspired me to become a lawyer. The School of Law taught me what it takes to be a lawyer and prepared me to not only be successful, but to follow in their footsteps. I want to work to support and encourage future generations of law alumni, even if that means hiring a teenager who got my number from the phone book,” said Hollingsworth.

As a decade-long goal now comes to fruition, Hollingsworth is spending most of her post-graduation days studying for the July Bar Exam. Upon passing the bar, she will start her career as an attorney, clerking for the Honorable Judge R. Lawton McIntosh (’86) of the South Carolina Circuit Court Bench for the Tenth Judicial Circuit. It’s a milestone for both the Hollingsworths and the Snells, ringing in a new era for the friends turned family.

“When Clair first worked for us, I was a young lawyer with nothing who hung a shingle. Now I am building a new office building in downtown Lexington. Clair graduated from law school and is now studying for the bar,” said Snell. “We both have come full circle with our goals, and we helped each other along the way.”