James is a Columbia, S.C. native, married to Kirkland T. Smith of Mt. Pleasant, SC. They have four children, a daughter Evie Emerson Smith, age 29, son Thomas Bridges Smith, age 27, son Paul Bradford Smith, age 22, and a daughter Shannon Elizabeth Smith, age 20.
James attended the University of South Carolina and obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 1990, and then went on to obtain his Juris Doctor from USC School of Law in 1995. James is admitted to the Bars of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and New York. James began his legal career as an Associate at the firm of NELSON, MULLINS, RILEY & SCARBOROUGH LLP in September 1995. In November of 1996, James started his own law firm of JAMES E. SMITH, JR., P.A. In 1997, he was awarded the Outstanding Young Alumni Award from the University of South Carolina. Shortly thereafter in 1999, he was named the South Carolina Bar’s Young Lawyer of the Year. In 2008 his home Richland County Bar awarded James with their Richland County Bar Civic Star Award. In 2010 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from the University of South Carolina College of Arts and Sciences. In 2016, James received the Compleat Lawyer Award Gold Medallion. In his fifth year of practice, James was rated by his peers through Martindale-Hubble as “AV,” the highest awarded. Today, James has returned to NELSON MULLINS RILEY & SCAROROUGH, LLP as a partner.
James was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in November 1996 at age 28. In his first year of service he was elected to the position of Assistant Minority House Leader. James served in the position for three years before becoming the Chief Minority Whip. James was then elected House Minority Leader and served from 2002 until 2005. James received many awards and recognitions for his service in the SC House and built a record of achievement for all in SC, like authoring and passing SC First Steps to School Readiness. In 2012, he received The Riley Institute’s Wilkins Award for Legislative Leadership, recognizing James’ ability to work across party lines on important and challenging issues facing South Carolina. He served 22 years in the SC House, leaving that office when he ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic Nominee for Governor in 2018.
In 2019, James was recruited to his two-time alma mater, the University of South Carolina to lead their military programs. After a short-term as Executive Director of Military Affairs at UofSC, James was elevated to the position of Special Assistant to the President. A member of the president’s cabinet, James served as the senior advisor to the president on all matters pertaining to external relations, advancement, engagement, and outreach. He was directly responsible for the university’s governmental and community affairs, military programs, and executive communications. In addition, he is responsible for coordinating and synchronizing the university communications and public affairs, the university development office, alumni affairs, foundations, and special events.
Recently, James led the Veterans Legal Clinic at the University of South Carolina School of law where he directed and supervised law students as student practitioners representing Veterans facing a variety of legal issues from landlord/tenant, family law, consumer, construction, expungement, simple wills and powers of attorney as well as veterans benefits and claims.
James also serves in our Armed Forces. After 911 and serving for eight (8) years as a JAG officer in South Carolina Army National Guard, James resigned then re-enlisted to pursue a commission as an Infantry Officer. James served in support of Operation Enduring Freedom Afghanistan with the 218th Infantry Brigade as Team Chief for PMT Viper where he was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, The Bronze Star and The Purple Heart. In 2008, James received the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce Sergeant William Jasper Freedom Award. In 2016, he was the first to be recognized by the University of South Carolina Veterans Alumni Council with the Veterans Alumni Council’s Distinguished Service Award. James is currently a Major and serves with the Joint Operations Center, Joint Forces Command.
Civic and Volunteer Service
James has served on various non-profit boards, fellowships and appointed positions including service as a Fellow – Liberty Fellowship, member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network, Fellow – Diversity Leadership Initiative, The Riley Institute, Patriots Point Development Authority, National Medal of Honor Center for Leadership and Education, South Carolina Humanities Council, Advisory Board US Global Leadership Coalition, The Congaree Riverkeeper, Friends of The Edisto (FRED), The River Alliance and The Big Red Barn Retreat.
James and his family attend the Downtown Church in Columbia, SC.