The blue sapphire college class ring Mike Smith wears next to his wedding band pretty much says it all. Whether it's as a soldier, senior oil and gas litigator, competitive long-distant cyclist or senior board member of the Hall Estill law offices in Oklahoma City, Smith, a proud graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, endeavors to win.
He is a self-described “adrenaline junkie” who delights in new and exciting challenges every day, “competing and striving to do the best for our clients,” he said.
Smith leads 35 counselors in the Oklahoma City offices of Hall Estill, which was founded in 1950 in Tulsa. The firm employs 80 there; four in Fayetteville, Ark.; and two in Washington, D.C.
“I've practiced long enough I'm not ashamed to say I've won some cases and I've lost some cases,” Smith said, “Fortunately, I haven't lost very many. I hate to lose, even at Tiddlywinks.”
From his offices on the 29th floor of the Chase Tower, Smith, 66, sat down recently with The Oklahoman to talk about his professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Can you tell us about your roots?
A: I grew up in Hobart near Altus, or halfway between Lone Wolf and Gotebo, I like to tell people. My parents met and married before my father was deployed to serve in World War II. A disabled vet, my dad did some watch and clock repair from home and, though he wore a back, and sometimes neck, brace, we'd go on fishing, and limited hunting, trips together. My mother worked as a cashier for ONG. My paternal grandfather, who lived in Hobart until he died at 97, was my favorite person in the world. He worked hard all his life, lastly as a mail carrier, and put family above everything. I have one brother, two years younger, who lives in Massachusetts and plays piano for a living. Funny. My parents bought a piano when I was 6 for me to take lessons. But I struggled, and only lasted six months, while my brother — at age 4 and having never taken a single lesson — could climb up on the piano stool and play by ear. I wanted to be outside playing football.
Q: Were you a football player? What were the highlights of your school years?
A: Yes, I played all sports and was quarterback and co-captain of our football team, which was undefeated my senior year. Our coach, Mr. Battles, was strong on doing the right things the right way, and never cursed. My other big mentor in high school was my math teacher, Mr. Richardson, who among other things encouraged me to run for president of the state chapter of Future Teachers of America. I asked him if I, being from the small town of Hobart, shouldn't instead go for VP or reporter. If I settled, and didn't try, I'd never know if I'd be elected, he said. I ran, and won, addressing the largest audiences I'd ever seen in my life in the student union at OSU. Both Mr. Battles and Mr. Richardson still live in Hobart.
Q: And college?
A: Thanks perhaps in part to the state FTA presidency on my resume, I was awarded a full ride to West Point, where I, until I injured my shoulder as a sophomore, played running and defensive back on the junior varsity football team. Then, all students earned degrees in civil engineering; a law career wasn't even on my radar screen, though I took classes in military law and constitutional law.
We all were gung-ho to be military/infantry officers, though I remember having tomatoes and eggs thrown at us when we marched as a corps of cadets in the Armed Forces Day Parade in New York City in '68 during the Vietnam War.
Q: How long did you serve after your graduation from West Point?
A: Twelve years, starting with 12 months in Germany, followed by 10 months with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam where I lost good friends and had others seriously injured, then three years at the OU College of Law as one of 25 Army officers worldwide selected for a special program that paid for officers to attend law school, three years with the JAG (Judge Advocate General's Corps) in Hawaii, one year with the JAG in Charlottesville, Va.; and two years supervising prosecution at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Q: Can you tell us about your decision to separate from the Army?
A: We, in 1981, decided to move from military to civilian life, primarily to put down roots for our kids.
My older daughter was in the fifth grade, and my parents and mother-in-law were still residing in Oklahoma.
I joined a firm in Enid, McKnight and Gasaway, where a law school classmate worked. I came on as a senior oil and gas litigator, moved to partner within a few years and stayed 15 years altogether.
Q: What prompted you to move from Enid to Oklahoma City?
A: It was '99, and a senior oil and gas litigator here had just retired. By that time, our kids were in college, and I knew many of the lawyers here; I'd worked with them on a big case in western Oklahoma.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your leadership philosophy?
A: I lead by example, and set high expectations for myself and all those around me.
Like my high school mentors, I aspire to give people the resources and encouragement to achieve expectations they didn't think possible.
And I hold people accountable if they fail to meet those expectations.
Michael G. “Mike” Smith
• Position: Hall Estill law firm in Oklahoma City, senior board member
• Birth date: June 30, 1946.
• Residence: SE Edmond.
• Family: Teresa (married 43 years; they grew up together in Hobart, started dating at winter break his sophomore year in college, and married three days after he graduated); three adult children, Heather Peck of Greenville, S.C., Jake Smith of San Antonio and Lindsay Smith of St. Louis; and four grandchildren, ages 2 to 11.
• Education: The U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the University of Oklahoma College of Law.
• Civic/professional contributions: Oklahoma Heritage Foundation, board member; Oklahoma Bar Association Professional Responsibility Commission, six years' service including two years as chair.
• Pastimes: Long-distance cycling (In the mid-90s, he switched from long-distancing running and marathons (he's run three) to cycling and has an annual tradition of biking the equivalent of his age in miles on the morning of his birthday), reading (including high suspense CIA stuff by Vince Flynn and Brad Thor and novels about trial lawyers) and sports (he and Teresa are big Thunder and OU football fans).