By: Kristopher A. Carter, VLP Paralegal, B.A. in History/Business, University of Arizona
Every month, Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Inc.’s (“SALA”) Volunteer Lawyers Program (“VLP”) recognizes a legal professional for their legal volunteerism. The award is a distinct honor. Out of the more than 400 attorneys and paralegals on panel who are willing to volunteer their time, twelve are recognized annually for their dedication to access to justice.
Attorney Benjamin Smith is the August 2022 VLP/SALA Outstanding Volunteer of the Month Award recipient. Mr. Smith also earned this distinguished honor in 2020, further evidencing his continuous commitment to justice.
Ben was born in Boston and he spent his early years living in Cambridge with his family. The Smith family has an established legacy of excellence in academia and public service. Ben’s grandfather was a judge and Ben’s father was an attorney who later became an archaeologist. Ultimately, Ben grew up in Tucson and in 1961, Ben moved to Vermont for high school. He attended Antioch College in Southern Ohio, and graduate school at Johns Hopkins University, studying Philosophy. Ben matriculated at UA Law in 1974, but did not find it a good fit at the time. After spending time living on the east coast, Ben returned to Tucson in 1980. Ultimately, in 1998 he decided to finish law school, graduating in 2001 and becoming licensed in Arizona.
Leadership is service – Ben epitomizes this maxim; his practice is wholly dedicated to pro bono work. In 2007, Ben began volunteering with SALA and although family law was not his initial area of concentration, he became a passionate advocate assisting victims of domestic violence through his work in the family law clinics. Ben has assisted approximately 8700 clients, over the course of almost 1600 clinics and 135 direct representation cases that have spanned over 5,000 hours at VLP! Given that approximately 50% of SALA’s VLP clients are survivors of domestic violence, Ben is a leading advocate in assisting families become free of violence. While the statistics are impressive, when you meet Ben you feel what it means to lead by serving! For aspiring attorneys and practicing attorneys alike, he is an incredible inspiration and example to follow.
Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), established the right to court-appointed counsel for indigent defendants in criminal cases. However, there is no civil-Gideon for indigent civil litigants. Pro se litigants, as Ben phrases it, brave the “intellectual bureaucracy” of the legal system all on their own. These litigants, many of whom are facing a myriad of pressures outside of the courtroom, including economic struggles, might be largely on their own if it were not for Ben’s service. Ben performs daily rescue missions, bringing people a step closer to justice with every visit and every word of sage advice.
Ben explains that the clients and their diverse experiences and perspectives often teach him as much as he teaches them. He is always incredibly touched by client’s willingness to trust and confide in him, given the trauma that so many of them have experienced. The highlight of volunteering for Ben is achieving outcomes for clients. Indeed, he does deliver outcomes for these clients; many of the clients provide glowing satisfaction surveys expressing thanks, relief, and praise for his kindness and guidance.
Ben is an indomitable force for good. He has not only counseled countless clients here in Pima County, but has also helped to groom the next generation of attorneys to lead through service. SALA and VLP are deeply grateful for Attorney Benjamin Smith’s continued volunteerism and dedication to his community and clients.