Posted: April 6th, 2010 | By: John Trump
It would take some time, not to mention a good portion of this space, to list the awards, accolades and accomplishments collected by David C. Smith, a partner at Kilpatrick Stockton LLP and a Wake Forest University School of Law alumnus.
Smith, who has served his alma mater as an adjunct law professor since 2003, has been listed in “The Best Lawyers in America,” as well as the 2006-07 edition of Business North Carolina’s “Legal Elite” and in the 2008 North Carolina Super Lawyer magazine.
He is one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in Cobell v. Salazar, a class action case involving about 500,000 Native American beneficiaries of the Individual Indian trust. A $455 million judgment against the U.S. government was awarded, and that is currently on appeal. The case is important to Smith, who makes frequent trips to Washington, D.C., as the appeal progresses.
“The Cobell case is important for a variety of reasons,” he says. “First, it has been a landmark case in holding the government accountable for breaches of its trust responsibility toward Native Americans. It has led to numerous other lawsuits filed by tribes and others seeking an accounting of trust funds.
People need help going through the legal system, and most of them can’t afford it. Often times, you’re pro bono clients are some of your favorite clients.
“Second, it is truly one of the most important lawsuits pending today for it addresses the issue of how the United States government will respond to its own misuse and mismanagement of land and money belonging to Native Americans, some of the poorest and politically powerless citizens of this country, for over a century. To date the response of the executive branch has been poor and that of Congress not much better. It is really up to the courts to finally redress this century-old wrong.”
Smith specializes in securities, shareholder rights, corporate governance and business torts, but he may be most well known for his pro bono work.
The Legal Aid Society of Northwest North Carolina honored him as N.C. Lawyer of the Year for his pro bono work from 2001-04. And in 2004, he received the Kilpatrick Stockton Managing Partner’s Award for Pro Bono Legal Services.
He doesn’t serve the community through pro bono work to receive awards, however.
“It’s what we should be doing, that’s the simple answer to it,” he says. “People need help going through the legal system, and most of them can’t afford it. Oftentimes, you’re pro bono clients are some of your favorite clients.”
Much of Smith’s work involves children, which, for example, are referred to the firm through the Legal Aid Society or Children’s Law Center. Through these agencies, Smith says, he principally serves as guardian for the children in cases that can involve abuse or domestic violence.
Outside the office, Smith has worked to raise money for Russian orphanages, which eventually led to him and his wife, Gwyn, who received a bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest in 1977 and graduated from the medical school in 1982, to adopt a Russian child.
The couple made frequent trips to Russia, working in orphanages from St. Petersberg to Perm in the Ural Mountains. Being struck by the poor conditions, they raised money to refurbish facilities, provide food and build a playground. A friend told them about a teenage girl named Viktoriya, who lived in an orphanage in a small village about two hours outside St. Petersburg. They adopted her when she was 14 and, despite knowing little English when she came to the United States, she graduated from high school this year and was accepted to Wittenberg University in Ohio, where she will start in the fall.
They have also raised four other children: Whitney, a graduate student at Southwestern Medical School in Dallas; Pieter, a senior at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn.; Camden, a sophomore at Washington and Lee University; and Micah, a high school junior.
The son of an attorney and the grandson of a Presbyterian minister, Smith earned his bachelor’s in politics from Wake Forest in 1981 and his JD three years later. He maintains many relationships built through the university, including a friendship with law professor Charley Rose some 25 years after Smith left as a student.
“I think the one word that comes to my mind when I think of David as an attorney is compassionate,” Rose says. “His devotion to the underserved is exhibited by the many, many hours he has devoted to the Cobell case. He also has become quite an educator. I recall his work with a clinical student where part of the educational experience involved a trip to D.C. with the student to experience a hearing in an international domestic case. I am pleased that David is now offering a course at Wake dealing with Indian Law.”
Said Smith, “Teachers make us what we are today,” who referred to Rose as “truly a student’s professor. He loves the students, he wants them to learn and he follows their progress very closely.”
Wake Forest, Smith says, “was an incredible school when I went there … and it still is.”