An opinion column in Austin, TX’s Daily Texan featured Scott Smiley, Jr. of the Smiley Law Group in its analysis on the current state of the American Dream. The full text of the article, written by Salil Puri, is reproduced below.

American Dream is alive and well

Nepotism rules the day in New Orleans. With a black governmental, bureaucratic power elite and a close-knit white aristocracy, success didn’t come easily for a poor family without connections or strings to pull.

By: Salil Puri

Posted: 7/24/07

As America matures past its idealistic adolescence, the cynicism of its citizens seems to have developed as well, and nowhere is that more apparent right now than in my hometown of New Orleans. Known as “the city that care forgot,” citizens of New Orleans exist in a slow, easygoing culture that far surpasses the general molasses of the rest of the South.

It has long been suggested that the lack of Protestant industriousness in New Orleans is not due to the fact that it’s a Catholic town, but because social mobility in the Crescent City has always been stymied by old entrenched power structures on both sides of the racial divide. The floodwaters of Katrina brought national attention to the subject, exposing an infrastructure diseased by a centuries-old tradition of graft and corruption.

Yesterday morning, as I nursed a Bloody Mary at a small working-class bar in the French Quarter, I found myself listening to a group of fellow day-drinkers bemoaning the demise of the American Dream.

The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer, and there’s no point even trying, they complained between rounds of pre-noon drinks.

Apparently Benjamin Franklin and John Adams didn’t know what they were talking about – to these day-drinkers, no one is responsible for their own lot in life.

The American Dream didn’t die, it’s just hard. It’s always been hard. Opportunity is not a guarantee.

How do I know? Because a friend of mine, Scott Smiley Jr., is the American Dream personified. He was born to teenage parents who worked long hours, lived on food stamps and eventually scrimped and saved enough to buy a small run-down corner store.

Nepotism rules the day in New Orleans. With a black governmental, bureaucratic power elite and a close-knit white aristocracy, success didn’t come easily for a poor family without connections or strings to pull.

Aggressive marketing campaigns, pro-social business practices (expanding into, and hiring from, low-income neighborhoods and refusing to sell liquor at their locations) and a lot of grueling work brought eventual success to their business endeavors.

By the time Scott was in high school, he was an integral part of the family business. Once in college, he combined textbook business principles with his father’s natural business savvy. He conducted business development operations, helped diversify the company’s revenue streams (which led to an 82 -percent annual increase in profit, resulting in significant attention from trade publications), started his own business (a Web design and software company) and worked as a door-to-door salesman, all while managing a full course load and maintaining a high grade point average.

After being ranked as AT&T’s top door-to-door salesman, Scott refused a $300,000-a-year position to work full time for his family and attend law school at night.

But in the summer of 2005, Katrina swept the Smiley home and their businesses all away after nearly 25 years of exhausting entrepreneurship. With little to no cash flow and insurance settlements delayed indefinitely, Scott and his family essentially started over from scratch, with little more than business plans and useless property to show for their years of work.

While assisting his father in rapidly expanding the small construction company they had developed prior to Katrina, Scott started an independent law firm specializing in insurance claims, construction and business law. In the chaos of post-Katrina New Orleans, without a stable or easily accessible office, Scott put together a young, unproven, but dedicated legal team.

In 2006, at 25 years old, not even having been a lawyer for an entire year, Scott was recognized by New Orleans City Business magazine as one of the state’s leading attorneys. He has maintained that ranking in 2007 as well.

Aggressively re-investing in his American Dream, Scott is expanding and is opening an office in Seattle, with plans to create a central practice in Texas in the near future.

The American Dream is alive and well. Maybe it’s harder to realize now than it was 50 years ago, maybe it’s not, but it is achievable. Scott is not the exception to the rule, but a perfect example of it. Hard work, persistence, initiative and drive leads to success, and even today, in America, the circumstances of one’s birth do not dictate the outcome of one’s life.

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