The Florida Bar

Florida Bar News

  1. Home
  2. News & Events
  3. Florida Bar News
The Florida Bar News
click to print this page  click to e-mail the address for this page 
February 1, 2013
Former ABA, Florida Bar President Smith, 87, dies

Wm. Reece Smith, Jr. Legendary Florida lawyer Wm. Reece Smith, Jr., died on January 11. He was 87.

Smith joined Carlton Fields in 1953 — commencing 60 years of 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.

“Reece was one of the most respected lawyers in the legal community and one of the most gracious and selfless,” said Gary L. Sasso, president and CEO of Carlton Fields. “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’s legacy will live on as the only American lawyer to have been a president of a local bar, a state bar, the ABA, and the International Bar Association. 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.

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.

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 nonprofit, 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.

Smith’s 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.

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 and professional responsibility.

Smith received his B.S. from the University of South Carolina in 1946, where he also played quarterback for the Gamecocks. He earned 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.

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, 33602-3336.

The Florida Bar Foundation, 250 S. Orange Ave., Suite 600P, Orlando, 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 33602.

[Revised: 11-25-2017]