2010 Precedent Setter Award Winner: Derek Smith

Introducing Derek Smith, a lawyer who stands out

Derek Smith: the cultivator
Counsel, TD Bank Financial Group
Called to the bar 2002

  • Founder of TD Bank’s pro bono program
  • Author of TD’s sustainable investment policy
  • Member, Ontario Securities Commission expert panel advising companies on disclosure of carbon emissions and resource use
  • Founded pro bono award at University of Ottawa law school

“Want to split the spring salad and greens?” Derek Smith asks cheerfully as he checks out the chalkboard menu at Gilead Café. The TD investment lawyer had suggested Jamie Kennedy’s latest venture because both he and the eco-conscious chef support Not Far from the Tree, a not-for-profit group whose volunteers pick fruit from residential trees in Toronto and distribute the produce to those who can use it.

Many litigators do pro bono work almost as a reflex. Believing it was time for corporate and in-house lawyers to do their share, Smith launched a pro bono program at TD in 2008. He handpicked the urban harvesters’ organization as the program’s first client. “Anyone who sends people up ladders all over the city,” he says, “is going to have legal issues.”

As a vanguard of change, Smith has seen dramatic results. In 2008 he wrote TD Asset Management’s Sustainable Investment policy: in 2009 TD voted for just under 50 shareholder proposals on environmental and social issues — up from zero in 2007. To Smith, it isn’t philanthropy, it’s responsibility. “Our policy shows that environmental and social factors are not the Great Satan of non-profitability; they are just indicators of how well companies manage risks.”

5 Ways Derek Shakes Things Up

1. Know what makes you happy and go after it. If you went to law school to make a difference, get out there and make it.

2. Have the strength and courage to fight tenaciously and fearlessly for what you care about. Don’t trade your passion and principles for comfort.

3. Build a network of like-minded people, and work with them to make a difference together.

4. Do pro bono work. In every area of law, there’s someone in your community who needs your help but can’t afford it

5. If you can change things where you are, stay. If you can’t, leave. Sometimes change only comes after enough people have voted with their feet.