Doug Smith, a litigator with Mayer Brown, joined NLSLA’s Board of Directors this month, after decades of pro bono contributions that have earned him numerous prestigious awards.
Smith has always had a deep commitment to public service, but it wasn’t until a string of clerkships – including one on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit – that he realized the protection of the law was meaningless without access to a lawyer.
“I saw so many cases where I thought, ‘If this person just had a lawyer this case would have come out a totally different way,’” he said. “There are so many people who, even though they may have a meritorious case, or may be entitled to a remedy, wind up losing just because they can’t afford a lawyer.”
He also saw how these injustices have a devastating ripple effect in the lives of people struggling with poverty.
“It can really change the trajectory of someone’s life,” he said.
Before joining Mayer Brown in April, Smith served as the pro bono coordinator for Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom’s Los Angeles office, overseeing the firm’s pro bono engagement with Los Angeles legal services groups on both high-impact cases and direct service legal assistance, including free legal clinics offered in the area. It was through this work that Smith got to know NLSLA, and was particularly drawn to the organization’s disaster legal services in the aftermath of the recent California wildfires.
“That sense of truly making a difference and really helping someone is heightened when you are assisting those in need after an emergency or disaster,” Smith said. “Everyone comes together, everyone wants to help out. You can cut through some of the bureaucracy to get the help people desperately need, and you’re seeing that now with the COVID-19 response.”
Smith believes NLSLA’s experience with disaster legal services will make the organization especially well-suited to respond quickly to the changing and increasing legal needs associated with the pandemic.
“How do you flatten the curve in a legal context? It’s really important to call all hands on deck and to meet those needs through collaboration. Even before the pandemic, NLSLA had been spearheading collaborative efforts within the Southern California pro bono community, and is now well positioned to play an essential role in bringing the legal aid community together to meet the legal surge that is undoubtedly coming.”
Smith has led several high-profile pro bono lawsuits, including a case challenging the federal government’s failure to consider ability to pay when setting bond amounts for asylum seekers and other detained immigrants. Now at Mayer Brown, Smith will continue working on such important pro bono matters. “Mayer Brown has long deployed its considerable resources to confront systemic problems around the world where it can have a major impact at both the individual and system level,” he said. He will also assist with coordinating the firm’s pro bono efforts in Los Angeles, in part by encouraging other lawyers to follow his example in providing pro bono representation to those most in need.
At Mayer Brown, Smith handles complex trial and appellate court litigation, focusing on antitrust, intellectual property, and data privacy and cybersecurity.