From Classroom to Courtroom: BBA President Mark Smith Brings Integrity & Compassion to the Job

Mark Smith has always been drawn to public service. In a career that has taken him from classrooms in upstate New York, to the public defender’s office in Brooklyn and then a prosecutor with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, to building a successful private practice as a white collar criminal defense attorney, it’s safe to say he has always found a way to help others.  Along the way, he has earned a reputation for maintaining an exceptional level of professionalism while advocating for people facing some of the most difficult challenges of their lives.

Today, as a well-respected white-collar criminal defense attorney, Smith is known for his calm, clear-headed guidance and advocacy on behalf of clients. The first thing his colleagues and friends point out about him is his impressive abilities as a lawyer, with a tendency to avoid the spotlight.

“Mark’s biggest victories are the ones you never hear about,” Marc Laredo, Smith’s law partner, explained. “His best work is representing the client who, because of his efforts, is never charged with wrongdoing.”

To Smith, this is simply what all clients deserve.

“When clients come to me, they are most often facing very significant legal and financial consequences.  We need to make thoughtful decisions to address their challenges head-on,” he said.

Throughout his career, Smith has remained focused on providing positive outcomes for the people he serves.  That focus brought him many places before it led him to joining Marc Laredo, a former colleague at the Attorney General’s Office, in private practice.

Upon graduating from St. Lawrence University, Smith took a job as a teacher in a rural school district in upstate New York.  For three years, he taught social studies and economics to high school students, including classes for children with learning disabilities. It was challenging and rewarding work, but a conversation with his brother introduced him to a new possibility.

“My brother had been working as a public defender,” Smith said. “He came across the state to teach at a clinical program at Syracuse University’s Law School, and I thought, that sounded like a great opportunity: teaching at the law school and trying cases as a public defender. That is what drew me to seek a law degree .”

Smith began exploring law schools. He decided on Suffolk University Law School after his first visit to Boston, where he immersed himself in the university’s criminal law program.

“I really enjoyed Suffolk. It was exciting for me to be back in the classroom,” said Smith. “I knew I wanted to be a criminal lawyer, so I took the evidence seminar at Suffolk and enrolled in the student clinical program my third year and was assigned to be a defender at the Lynn District Court.”

As a student defender, Smith traveled to Lynn District Court twice a week for a year, working under the mentorship of the well-respected Boston trial lawyer Elliot Weinstein. For Smith, the experience was a fascinating one, giving him a real-world perspective on what it took – and what it felt like – to help underserved people when they were most vulnerable. His time in Lynn convinced Smith that he was on the right path.

Suffolk had an added benefit – it is there that he met his wife, Mary O’Sullivan Smith, a former prosecutor and current Juvenile Court judge.  They have two adult children, one of whom started Boston College Law School this fall.

After law school, Smith worked for the Legal Aid Society in New York City, an organization which employed over a thousand lawyers.  Smith joined the Criminal Defense Division and was assigned to the Brooklyn office. It was an intense learning environment, with long hours that often included both a full-day and a full-night in court.

“Brooklyn, at that time, was experiencing the crack cocaine epidemic and was a very gritty place, with one of the highest crime rates in the city,” he said. “We worked long hours.  I’d be in court from nine to five, and then regularly be assigned to night court until 1 a.m., which is when they do all the arraignments.”

The case volume was high, and Smith quickly learned how to try cases. In one instance, on his first day back from vacation, one of his cases was advanced to trial. He had to defend a client accused of three counts of attempted murder. With high stakes, Smith called the experience “terrifying yet gratifying.”  His client was acquitted of all charges.

Following a year clerking for a state Supreme Court judge in Brooklyn, Smith returned to Boston to join Attorney General James Shannon’s team, first as a tax prosecutor and then in its Public Integrity Division.

When Scott Harshbarger – now senior counsel at Casner & Edwards – succeeded Shannon as Attorney General, he was immediately impressed with Smith’s ability to take on, and win, challenging and high-profile public corruption cases.  He watched as Smith successfully prosecuted a public employee charged with embezzling nearly $1 million from a school district in Worcester County.

“Mark showed that the State Attorney General’s office was fully prepared to apply the law equally to all.  To him, it was never about politics or building up his own reputation. It was about the law. He is the essence of professionalism,” Harshbarger said.

Taking note of Smith’s exceptional abilities as a team leader, Harshbarger made him Deputy Chief of the Criminal Bureau, and tapped him to lead the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Advisory Group.

Boston College Law School professor Michael Cassidy, formerly the Chief of the Criminal Bureau, found a close colleague, confidant and collaborator in Smith. He called Smith’s legal acumen and pragmatic approach to the law “invaluable assets to the bureau.”

“Mark has a real ability to size up a case and estimate its likely success before a judge or jury,” said Cassidy. “He is also a brilliant tactician, especially on cross examination. He is a good source of advice for all of us on trial strategy.”

After almost a dozen years at the Attorney General’s Office, Smith decided he was ready for the new – and perhaps more daunting – challenge of launching a practice of his own. He joined Marc Laredo and his phone immediately started ringing.

Smith initially became involved with the BBA as the Attorney General’s liaison to the Criminal Law section. However, it was during this time as a private practitioner that Smith first realized that the members who were often on opposing sides could convene to work together on issues of common concern.

“I had been to the BBA for their programs, but hadn’t been very involved in the sections until then,” said Smith. “There were lawyers from large and small firms, and from different backgrounds and practice areas, and they were all there working to advance the values of the bar. Given that the type of litigation that we engage in can be very adversarial, it’s refreshing to come to the BBA and work together on common interests.”

When the BBA sought additional expertise on the issue of adequate compensation for District Attorneys and public defenders, Smith’s long history of tackling challenges with quiet integrity became an asset to the organization.

Smith also welcomed the chance to return to his education roots as chair of the BBA’s Education Committee. Smith was a steady and guiding hand, helping sections plan and organize hundreds of legal education programs. To Cassidy, that is no surprise.

“Mark has always been a successful manager, one who is kind and generous to younger colleagues and capable of seeing the big picture,” he said.

Smith’s tenure as BBA president comes at a pivotal time. With the BBA’s Criminal Justice Working Group preparing to release a report, and the state legislature ready to act, Smith feels that the time for meaningful criminal justice reform is now.

“Criminal justice reform is extremely important. Too often, young people get caught up in the system and once they’ve been arraigned, they’re in the database,” explained Smith. “Any future employer or landlord may have access to that criminal offender record information [CORI] and that person can be denied a job, housing and suffer other damaging collateral consequences.”

In Smith’s experience, many of these offenses are eventually dismissed, but the record often remains. This is an issue that Smith is eager to address.

“While criminal justice reform is top of mind in the legislature, our working group is trying to advance topics like CORI, bail reform, expansion of diversion programs, and other reforms.  I think that there could be common ground between our proposals and the views held by prosecutors and the thinking of the various District Attorneys.  I am optimistic that we can work together and make progress.”

Laredo says that no one is better at finding this common ground than Smith. “Mark has this incredible ability to objectively see both sides of an issue, and bring people together to collaborate on a solution,” he said. “He is going to be an outstanding advocate for the profession.”