Tampa, Fla. – January 11, 2013 – Carlton Fields’ Chair Emeritus and Shareholder, William Reece Smith, Jr., passed away today, Friday, January 11, 2013. He was 87 years old.
Smith joined Carlton Fields in 1953 — commencing 60 years of successful legal practice, leadership positions, and award recognition. He was the firm’s last surviving named shareholder of Carlton, Fields, Ward, Emmanuel, Smith & Cutler — the firm was renamed Carlton Fields in 1995.
Throughout his career, Smith was engaged in general trial and appellate practice and argued cases at every level of the state and federal court systems, including the Supreme Court of the United States. His area of practice was broad and included both criminal justice and civil litigation in state and federal courts and advocacy before administrative agencies and arbitral tribunals.
Most notably, Smith’s legacy will live on as the only American lawyer to have been a president of a local bar, a state bar, the American Bar Association (ABA) and the International Bar Association (IBA). He was the first American president of the IBA. He served as president of the Hillsborough County Bar Association from 1963-1964; The Florida Bar Foundation from 1970-1972; The Florida Bar from 1972-1973; Florida Legal Services, Inc. from 1973-1976 (Florida’s first statewide legal service organization supporting the delivery of legal services to the poor); the ABA from 1980-1981; and the IBA from 1988-1990.
Additionally, Smith was a lifetime member of the ABA House of Delegates and past president of the American Bar Endowment, the National Conference of Bar Presidents, and the American Bar Foundation. He was a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, and the International Society of Barristers. He was also a member of the Council of the American Law Institute.
Gary L. Sasso, President and CEO of Carlton Fields stated, “Reece was one of the most respected lawyers in the legal community and one of the most gracious and selfless. He was an extraordinary trial lawyer, role model, and mentor to many. His service to Carlton Fields, the Tampa community, Florida, to those in need of pro bono legal services, and to the legal profession in general cannot be overstated. He set the gold standard for professionalism and commitment to pro bono service. He was the consummate lawyer, and we will never forget him.”
Smith is known for having led a successful opposition against efforts to abolish the Legal Services Corporation and, nationwide, he long championed and organized voluntary pro bono legal services for the poor at state and local levels.
Smith received recognition in numerous ways for his leadership and service to the legal profession and by countless organizations, including the rarely given ABA’s Gold Medal — the Association’s highest recognition — for “exceptionally distinguished service to the cause of American Jurisprudence.” He also received the ABA Pro Bono Publico Award, the Herbert Harley Award of the American Judicature Society, and he was the first recipient of “The William Reece Smith, Jr. Special Services to Pro Bono Award,” created in his name by the National Association of Pro Bono Coordinators.
Throughout his career, Smith dedicated himself to improving the delivery of legal services to the poor and disadvantaged. He was instrumental in founding Bay Area Legal Services, Inc., a non-profit publicly funded entity providing legal representation to indigent individuals. He later helped to establish Florida Legal Services, Inc., a statewide legal services program that provides legal services to certain indigent populations and provides support to more than 40 legal services programs in Florida, serving as its first president. As ABA President, Smith put expanding legal services for the poor at the top of his agenda.
Further, Smith chaired a Committee of the ABA’s Section on Legal Education & Admissions to the Bar, served two terms on The Florida Bar’s Standing Committee on Professionalism, and was a member of the ABA – American Law Institute Committee on Continuing Professional Education. His service for years on the governing Council of the American Law Institute includes oversight, direction, and review of scholarly research in the law and law reform.
Smith wrote extensively in learned journals, professional publications, and newspapers on matters of law, the legal profession, and higher education. He testified on various occasions before committees of the U.S. Congress and the Florida Legislature. He also spoke to religious, educational, civic, and professional organizations in every state of the Union and in numerous foreign countries.
His interest in education was evidenced by serving as a member of advisory boards at the University of Tampa, and of three law schools at Florida State, Miami, and Stetson universities. Additionally, he served as vice-chair of the Executive Committee of the Council on Legal Education Opportunity; co-chair of the Task Force on Missions and Goals of the University of South Florida; chair of the Council of Advisors, University of South Florida; vice-chair, The New College Foundation, Sarasota, Florida; trustee and vice-chair, Board of Trustees, Bethune-Cookman College; chair, Florida’s Joint Legislative-Executive Commission on Post Secondary Education; member, National Advisory Council, University of South Carolina; co-chair, Committee on Public Finance of the Board of Regents of the State University System of Florida; and, more recently, member, Board of Trustees of Stetson University. His education honors are legion including 12 honorary degrees from 11 colleges and universities.
Smith served from August 1976 to September 1977 as interim president of the University of South Florida. He was also a Distinguished Professorial Lecturer at Stetson University College of Law where he taught a course on Legal Ethics & Professional Responsibility.
Smith received his B.S. from the University of South Carolina in 1946, his J.D., with high honors, from the University of Florida College of Law in 1949, and he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in 1952.
To learn more about Smith, please read his biography, A Consummate Lawyer, authored by Michael I. Swygert.
The funeral service for William Reece Smith, Jr. will be held at 1 p.m. on Thursday, January 17, 2013, at the Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa. A visitation will be held from noon to 1 p.m. at the Church, and a reception will follow the service at the Chester Ferguson Law Center of the Hillsborough County Bar Association, 1601 N. Tampa Street. Private burial services will be held in the family plot at Plant City Memorial Park, Plant City, Florida. Those who cannot attend in person may view the service online at www.hydeparkumc.org (click on Worship > Live Worship).
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to one of the following charities:
Bay Area Legal Services, for
The William Reece Smith, Jr. Endowment Fund
829 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd., Suite 200
Tampa, FL 33602-3336
The Florida Bar Foundation
250 S. Orange Ave., Suite 600P
Orlando, FL 32801-3362
The ABA Fund for Justice and Education
321 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60654-4714
The Hillsborough County Bar Foundation, for
The Wm. Reece Smith, Jr. Building Endowment Fund
1610 North Tampa Street
Tampa, FL 33602