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Joseph F. Rice School of Law

Q&A with Michael Jeffcoat '97

When did you first become interested in law? 

I developed an interest in law at a very young age. My mother was a court reporter in Columbia who handled depositions, so there was a lot of respect for the legal profession in our household. Additionally, I have always loved — and still do — reading biographies. Many of my heroes growing up were attorneys from American history. 

Were there any instructors or mentors that shaped your perspective on law? 

Certainly. My favorite professor at the Rice School of Law was Nathan Crystal, who taught professional responsibility in my first year. Professor Crystal authored our casebook and was so knowledgeable and engaging. His teachings have had a lasting impact on me. As for mentors, Earl Ellis ‘75 is a notable one. I started my practice just a few years after graduating from law school. Earl, a family friend experienced in starting a law firm, generously assisted me and answered questions numerous times. I am truly grateful for his guidance. I had worked with Jim Fields and his group at the McNair Law Firm. He was not only an excellent attorney surrounded by other great attorneys, but was also an outstanding leader, and I learned a great deal from him during the time that I was there. 

What makes someone a good leader?  

I believe it's crucial to provide the attorneys we work alongside with opportunities to grow, learn, and evolve in their careers. That was the atmosphere in the administrative section of the McNair Law Firm when I was there. Many excellent attorneys, including former Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, practiced there in their early years. At our firm today we emphasize providing opportunities for mentorship, collaboration and growth for our lawyers as a result of that experience. 

Service seems integral to your mission as a firm. How else do you give back to the community? 

Our firm has a program called Jeffcoat Gives Back, which encompasses various initiatives. This year, through Families Helping Families, we adopted a family of seven, a family of four, an elderly adult, and an adult with special needs. Besides Paid Time Off (PTO), we offer Volunteer Time Off (VTO), where employees get eight hours of paid time for volunteerism each quarter. We also engage in quarterly service projects together. We are looking to expand this program more and more. While donating money is no doubt helpful, we want to be actively involved on the ground out in the community. Our firm has grown significantly in the past six years especially, and we hope to continue expanding our community contributions along with our relationship with the law school. 

On the note of your relationship to the law school, you recently invested in a fund for students pursuing public interest law. What influenced that decision? 

Supporting the law school aligns with our firm's mission to make a positive impact by helping people solve significant problems in their lives. When the new name of the law school and Joe Rice’s incredible gift were announced in November, Joe challenged graduates of our school to do something good, to do it well, and to better all lives. We all should take on that mantle – all of us. I was inspired by Joe’s words, and I hope that this initiative will inspire more alumni to contribute to society. There are many opportunities to give back, but making an impact through the law school is one thing that we, as lawyers, can do to make things a little better for folks. 

Are there any moments in your career so far that you look back on with a sense of pride? 

The most meaningful for me have been the quiet times, honestly – the private conversations with clients after we’ve changed the course of their lives for the better through the results we’ve gotten in their case and they’ve expressed thanks. When I look back on my career one day, that’s what I will treasure the most.   

In a challenging career, how do you unwind? 

I love spending time in the outdoors – fishing and hiking especially - but cooking is my favorite daily activity. It allows me to focus exclusively on the task at hand and not think about the many challenges in cases or in running a law firm. It's something I truly enjoy. 

What advice do you have for current or prospective students going to law school? 

Find a legal career that is personally meaningful and satisfying. While I understand there are real financial concerns in deciding on your patch, you'll be far more effective if you're engaged in work that matters to you. The life of an attorney is challenging and stressful. It often involves long hours. However, caring about your work and knowing it makes a positive difference will be crucial for your success and satisfaction in your career. 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.