William Reece Smith has truly distinguished himself as one of this nation’s finest and most respected leaders of the law, whose contributions have benefited not just the law but also education, the arts, and his community. During his career, which spans over 50 years, Mr. Smith has been a leader as a lawyer, an educator, a mentor, a community servant, and an outstanding citizen of this nation. The mantle of leadership, it seems, rests comfortably upon his shoulders.
After graduating from public schools in Plant City, Florida, he attended the University of South Carolina where he lettered as the starting quarterback of the Gamecocks varsity football team, and also served as Regimental Vice Commander of the Naval ROTC Unit. He received a Bachelor Degree in Naval Science, and then he served his country honorably as an ensign in the United States Navy.
After military service, Mr. Smith attended the University of Florida College of Law where he graduated first in his class and was selected as Editor In Chief of the University of Florida Law Review, President of the Student Bar Association and a member of the University Executive Council. He was also selected for membership in the prestigious Florida Blue Key fraternity and the University Hall of Fame.
After graduation from law school, Mr. Smith was selected as a Rhodes Scholar and did post-graduate work in private international law at Oxford University, England. While at Oxford, he received varsity letters in lacrosse and basketball. Upon his return from Oxford, he joined the faculty of law at the University of Florida as a full-time member.
Shortly thereafter, he began practicing law in Tampa with the law firm that is now known as Carlton, Fields, where, he specialized in trial and appellate practice. Mr. Smith has served in all principal leadership positions at Carlton Fields, and is now the Chair Emeritus of the firm, and maintains an active involvement in its affairs.
Reece Smith is not only an accomplished trial and appellate lawyer; he is a legal scholar, having published extensively in learned journals, professional publications and newspapers on matters of law, the legal profession and higher education. He is an Adjunct Professor at Stetson University College of Law in St. Petersburg, and since 1991 he has been distinguished professorial lecturer, teaching legal ethics and professional responsibility.
His commitment to education extends beyond that of legal education. In 1976-77, he was asked to serve as Interim President of the University of South Florida, and served in that capacity with great distinction. However, he declined to become a candidate for the permanent post in order to seek the presidency of the American Bar Association, where he served as president-elect in 1979 and president in 1980. In addition, for nearly 10 years, he served as City Attorney for the City of Tampa, during which time he also continued his practice with his firm.
Mr. Smith has served as president of the Florida Bar Foundation, The Florida Bar, Florida Legal Services, Inc., The International Bar Association, vice-chair and member of the Executive Committee of the Council on Legal Education Opportunity, co-chair of the Task Force on Mission and Goals of the University of South Florida, chair of the State of Florida’s Joint Legislative-Executive Commission on Post-Secondary Education, and is currently a member of the Board of Trustees of Stetson University. Mr. Smith was chair of the ABA’s Section on Legal Education & Admissions to the Bar committee that recently published a two-volume work entitled Teaching and Learning Professionalism.
Although Mr. Smith is also noted for his leadership in advancing many charitable and civic causes, most would agree it is his support for legal services to the poor, which is most prominent. In the early 1980’s, his ABA presidency coincided with congressional efforts to significantly cut funding to the Legal Services Corporation in a way that would result in a diminution of legal services to the poor around the country. He championed the effort to resist that undertaking by organizing and rallying lawyers around the country to lobby Congress to halt that effort. Through his efforts and leadership, the measure was defeated. His support for legal services was not limited to the year that he served as president; it was a project that he demonstrated a commitment to long before his service, during his service, and one that he continues to support today.
In his distinguished career, Mr. Smith has received the American Bar Association Medal of Honor; the Florida Bar Foundation Medal of Honor; the Tampa Civitan Club Award for Outstanding Citizen of the Year; the Legal Aid Defender Association’s Arthur Von Briesen Award; the Alvin J. Arnett Award of the National Client’s Council, Inc., and the Herbert Harley Award of the American Judicature Society. In addition, the American Bar Association and the National Association of Pro Bono Coordinators established the William Reece Smith, Jr. Special Service to Pro Bono Award in his honor, and named him as the award’s first recipient; and, in his honor, Stetson University College of Law established the William Reece Smith, Jr. Public Service Award, naming him as the first recipient.
William Reece Smith continues to be a leader in civic affairs as well. He served for six years as president of the Tampa Philharmonic Orchestra Association and became the founding president of the Florida Gulf Coast Symphony Association, which is now the Florida Orchestra. He was chair of the Hillsborough County Mental health Association; president of the Tampa Chapter of United Cerebral Palsy; and a director of the Tampa Chapters of the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, Muscular Dystrophy and the Visiting Nurses Association. He was president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce; vice-chair of the Commission to Revise the Charter of the City of Tampa; chair of the Governor’s Commission on Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Developmental Disabilities; and a member of the Board of Directors of the Bay Area Chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.