Peter S. Smith Papers

Identifier: NEJL-068


  • 1965 - 1972

Biographical Note

From Peter Smith obituaries in the Baltimore Sun (2015 Mar 13) and Bowdoin Magazine:

Peter Sheridan Smith was born in New York City and raised in Durham, New Hampshire.

After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1956, he earned a bachelor's degree in 1960 from Bowdoin College, and his law degree in 1963 from Cornell University Law School.

Mr. Smith spent his 50-year career delivering legal services to those who traditionally have been denied access—African Americans and other people of color, the poor, juveniles, and those with disabilities. As a member of the elite Appeals and Research Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, Smith wrote and argued appeals in some of the most significant cases in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. It was during that time that Smith met Marjorie Kester, who was working as special assistant to the first chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. They were married by Judge Harold Greene, who had directed the Appeals and Research Section.

In 1966, Smith became the first attorney of the Neighborhood Legal Services Program of Washington, DC—the nation’s first civil appellate legal services program. He argued before the Supreme Court of the United States the landmark case Shapiro v. Thompson that brought an end to welfare residency requirements.

The law firm of Piper and Marbury hired Smith in 1969 to open and direct a branch office in Baltimore’s inner-city dedicated exclusively to representing poor individuals—the first program of its kind in the United States. Under his leadership, the office became a model for a number of other law firms in the country and was the subject of the book, "The New Private Practice: A Study of Piper & Marbury’s Neighborhood Law Office."

In 1972, Smith joined the faculty at the University of Maryland Law School and created one of the first clinical legal education programs in the nation, in which students practiced law in a full-time basis with their professor. The law students represented children who were being prosecuted in the Baltimore juvenile court and whose parents had little or no financial resources. Under Smith’s direction, the clinic students litigated a case in the United States Supreme Court, involving the rights of juveniles not to be tried more than once for the same offense. It was the first appearance before that Court by a law school clinical program.

The last twenty years of Smith’s legal career focused on representing children with disabilities in their effort to obtain appropriate special education services from public school districts.

In 1990, Smith returned to Durham, New Hampshire and he practiced law there until 2014. During that time, he served two terms on the Durham Town Council, in addition to extensive service on Durham’s Planning Board and Conservation Commission. Smith was a fifty-year member of the New Hampshire Bar Association.

Peter Smith died on February 14, 2015 at his home in Durham, New Hampshire at the age of 76.


9 linear feet

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Repository Details

Part of the National Equal Justice Library Repository

Georgetown University Law Library
111 G. Street NW
Washington D.C. 20001