Smith Remembered as the Visionary Lawyer Who Founded Holland & Knight LLP and Changed the Legal Landscape of Florida and the Nation
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law was dedicated today by a distinguished group of friends and colleagues of the legendary Chesterfield Smith: U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, UF law school president Bernie Machen, Levin College of Law Dean Robert Jerry, Holland & Knight Managing Partner Howell W. Melton, Jr. and Holland & Knight partner and chair of the firm’s Directors Committee Martha W. Barnett.
“Chesterfield Smith was one of our greatest graduates, and went on not only to found one of the world’s top law firms, but to make a profound impact on our nation and the standards to which we hold our leaders,” said Levin College of Law Dean Robert Jerry. “Chesterfield also placed tremendous emphasis on ‘giving back’ to the profession, and it is fitting that the 400 donors who have made it possible to dedicate our ceremonial classroom in his honor are doing exactly that for the many students who will benefit from this facility.”
Founder and chairman emeritus of the national law firm Holland & Knight, Chesterfield Smith (1917-2003) was one of the country’s most prominent lawyers, and his name remains one of the most revered in national legal circles. He was the chief architect of Florida’s Constitution, a champion of pro bono work and diversity in the legal profession and the outspoken president of the American Bar Association, who in 1973 was one of the first national figures to call for President Nixon’s resignation.
In what was instantly dubbed the Saturday Night Massacre, President Richard Nixon fired the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal, prompting the nation’s attorney general and top assistant to resign. Almost immediately, without a protracted debate or consensus among his peers, Smith spoke out, telling the nation and the president, “No man is above the law.” Smith went on to lead the ABA’s effort to call for an independent counsel to investigate Nixon. His early voice of leadership altered history by becoming a catalyst in the president’s ultimate resignation.
The classroom that now bears his name is the result of a collective effort by Smith’s colleagues, friends and admirers to honor his legacy. Funded through the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc., it is the largest classroom at the law school and also serves as a main location for conferences and workshops. Smith graduated from the law school in 1948.
“As Managing Partner of Holland & Knight, it is my privilege to dedicate this classroom on behalf of the lawyers, staff and friends of our firm to the legacy of our founder, Chesterfield Smith,” said Howell W. Melton, Jr. “Chesterfield was a charismatic and visionary leader who dared to dream big dreams. A man of humble beginnings, he believed that he and the law firm he created could make a difference on a grand scale. The walls of this classroom are evidence that Mr. Smith’s big dreams came true.”
In 2002, Ginsburg praised Smith’s life-long contributions to the legal profession and his leadership in creating a law firm dedicated to public service. “He has devoted his extraordinary talent and enormous energy to the improvement of the legal profession – to making the profession more honorable, more responsive to the people law and lawyers serve,” said Ginsburg. “He is, in sum, among the brightest, boldest, bravest, all-around most effective lawyers ever bred in Florida and the USA.”
“Chesterfield was passionate about the law and the role of lawyers in insuring the constitutional promises of freedom and access to justice,” said Holland & Knight partner and Smith protégé Martha W. Barnett. “He invested in people, especially young lawyers. He was a great mentor and did his best to turn us into leaders like him. It is fitting that his legacy be perpetuated at the University of Florida, where law students, lawyers and citizens will be reminded daily of his lifetime of contributions to the legal profession and the nation.”
For media who wish to cover the dedication remotely, a satellite feed of the dedication ceremony will be available at the coordinates SBS 6 Transponder 13, slot A, at 1:45 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21. (The downlink frequency is 12002.0 Horizontal. The symbol rate is 3.9787; the FEC is 3/4.) The event also will be streamed live over the Internet. Still photographs and a release are available upon request from the UF Levin College of Law Communications Office (352-273-0650) after the event.