BY RAY BUROW
Growing up in Williamson, W.Va., there were two things that Michael “Mickey” Smith knew from an early age: he would grow up to be an attorney, and he would always be called Mickey.
From the first grade, his mother insisted that he remember to request to be called Mickey, since he was named after his uncle.
Smith’s parents were even more insistent concerning a college education. His father, a World War II veteran, didn’t get the luxury of attending college. Neither of his parents attended college, but their children would.
Smith loved the people of West Virginia, but had big plans that didn’t include living in small-town America. He set out on a circuitous journey that led to living out his dream of becoming a notable attorney.
While he was studying engineering at Virginia Tech, he met his wife-to-be, Lizz; she was an education major. After earning his engineering degree, graduating with honors, Smith received a merit scholarship and continued his education at the Duke University School of Law, where he graduated in the top six percent of his class.
In law school, Smith was elected to the Order of the Coif, an honor society for law school graduates. Smith is also a member of Mensa International, the International High IQ Society.
Though Smith has received accolades for being incredibly intelligent, he is also incredibly humble.
“I don’t consider myself to be especially smart, but I do think I am hardworking. I have always been hardworking, and I like school. If I won the lottery, I think that I would go back and be a professional student. I like to learn,” Smith said. “You know the old saying, ‘The harder I work, the luckier I become.’ I think there’s a lot of truth in that. I’ve always been blessed with good partners and support people to work with.”
Education is important to the Smith family. Lizz, a recently retired school teacher, discovered that retirement wasn’t for her. She missed teaching and eventually returned to the classroom as a substitute teacher.
Learning from her experience, Smith doesn’t ever plan to retire.
“I think if you like what you do, I wouldn’t be in a rush to find some other thing that you might not like,” Smith said. “I think with a lot of people, your job is you. I mean that’s who you are, and if you enjoy it, why would you want to?”
It may seem as though Smith can do anything he puts his mind to, but, he is a self-proclaimed terrible golfer. In fact, he said there are many things he isn’t great at. However, his job is one thing he does exceptionally well.
“I like helping people. I like talking to people and working with people,” he said. “I don’t view it as drudgery. It’s a joy most of the time, not all of the time, but most.”
Smith is driven by his passion for his work, which has fueled his success.
“I think you have to have a passion for what you do,” he said. “Law is a job that requires a lot of hours, and usually young lawyers who aren’t passionate about it don’t last very long in the profession. It becomes a drudgery to put in the work.”
In the early years of his law career, Smith represented large corporations, in particular, insurance companies. That ended in 2002, when he changed his practice.
“It just wasn’t rewarding any more. Contrary to the media, not all cases are fake and phony, so if you’re an insurance defense attorney, your job is to minimize what they pay out, sometimes to the detriment of people who are deserving,” he said.
Now he works on the other side of the same type of issues. In 2004, he, along with friends Gary Lesser and Joe Landy, formed the law firm Lesser, Lesser, Landy & Smith.
“Now, we’re on the offense; trying to get money for deserving people,” he said. “The easiest way to think of it is like in football; offense versus defense. It’s the same sort of cases. In the criminal context, we’d be the prosecutor. It’s not called that in civil [law], but we’re the one bringing the case. We’re presenting the case.”
What people see on television dramas versus real life courtroom drama, he said, is actually the opposite. It’s far more preparation and less performance.
“It’s kind of totally flipped from TV, meaning on TV, they’ll prepare for 10 minutes and the flashy stuff is 50 minutes,” Smith explained.
In his personal life, Smith is a doting husband. For their 30th wedding anniversary, he surprised Lizz with a visit to his alma mater, which included renewing their vows in Duke University’s chapel, where they were married.
Smith arranged for them to arrive at the chapel 30 years to the day later, and at the exact hour of their nuptials. A friend of the couple, a law professor at the university, completed the surprise event by assisting in the vow renewal. “She had no idea,” he said.
Smith has since hung a photograph commemorating the event in the entranceway of their Wellington home. Many of Lizz’s friends have commented on the thoughtful gesture, noting that their husbands would never have done such a thing, he said. However, Smith isn’t taking credit for the concept; someone else shared it with him, and he took the idea and ran with it.
“Running with it” is a common theme for the Smiths, who have traveled to every continent with the exception of Antarctica. But Antarctica is on the couple’s radar. They will visit the earth’s fifth-largest continent at the end of this year.
Smith’s adolescent dream drove him from small-town America, but his heart has kept him in Wellington, where he uses his passion and drive to help the community.
Two of the many organizations that receive his attention are the Neil S. Hirsch Family Boys & Girls Club of Wellington and the Wellington Community Foundation. He serves on both of their boards and finds it an honor to help serve the community he loves.
Smith was smitten with the Boys & Girls Club as soon as he toured its facility.
“I knew about it. I knew that it existed, but I didn’t really know,” he said. “I guess like a lot of people, I didn’t realize the extent of the need. I really think that the organization is wonderful. It appeals to people who look at things from the heart and to people who look at things in dollars and cents.”
There is a sign in the club mentioning that it is easier to build strong young people rather than fix broken adults.
“That’s what appeals to me. It’s a great mission,” Smith said.
Community service is important to Smith, who tends to focus on the elderly, as well as the youth of the community. Both are the goals of the Wellington Community Foundation, where he is a founding board member.
It all fits into his life’s goal to help others better their lives.
“I would like for folks to be able to say that I was someone who gave back to the community,” he said. “I am a huge fan of Wellington and have been for 25 years. I want to devote my time trying to help.”