BYU law professor uses his experience to teach students about cooperative relationships

By on June 26, 2012.

For Gordon Smith it’s not about the fight, it’s about the handshake.

“When it comes right down to it, it’s all about relationships,” Smith said.

Smith, a former lawyer and current law professor at BYU, is using his career experience to teach his students about cooperation. He explained he was a transactional lawyer, a lawyer who brings two parties together instead of separating them.

“My job was to help people make deals,” Smith said. “It was negotiating and drafting contracts. I always thought there was something noble in that because you were trying to help people to do something productive and to set up their relationship in a way that it would remain cooperative.”

Smith has been teaching at BYU since 2007 and is currently the Associate Dean and Glen L. Farr Professor of Law. He teaches several classes in the law school including Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Law & Entrepreneurship, Securities Regulation and Contracts.

In 1980, Smith, who was not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the time, came to BYU with his best friend and studied accounting. Six years later he left BYU as a college graduate and a new member of the Church, thanks to good friends and the Book of Mormon. He said his accounting degree prepared him for the University of Chicago Law School where he spent the next three years earning his law degree. Once Smith was finished with law school, he began practicing.

Smith never stood up in court to yell “objection” like in the movies, and said the only time he went to court was to be sworn into the bar. Although he wasn’t doing the stereotypical work many think lawyers do, Smith said he believed his kind of work was making a difference to those involved.

“If you think about how you’re reading documents all day that’s pretty depressing,” Smith said. “But if you’re making the world a better place by helping people to forge new relationships through transactions that create value, that’s a different proposition. That’s how I try to think about what I did.”

Smith doesn’t limit this idea of cooperation to his career. Smith’s daughter, Laura Randle, a current BYU student, said he talked about the cooperation involved in contracts outside of work.

“He was really good at finding ways to apply it to regular life,” Randle said. “And because he used that kind of logic in everything, we absorbed how contracts work.”

Smith decided to start teaching after his time with the law firm where he was practicing. He spent five years teaching at the University of Wisconsin Law School before he began teaching at BYU in 2007. Smith said he never thought he would end up back in Provo, but it had great significance to him.

“BYU is an incredibly important place in my life because of that time when I was discovering the Church,” Smith said.

It was because his best friend came with him to BYU that Smith was baptized and served a mission in Austria a year later. After his mission, he came back to finish the accounting program and he met his wife in the process.

“BYU was the foundation for the entire rest of my life,” Smith said.

Back in Provo, Smith said his goals for the future align with what he recalls from an address Dallin H. Oaks made to students entering the law program.

“He said he wanted this to be a great law school and that it’s mission would unfold over time,” Smith said. “I want to be a part of that unfolding of the mission and I want it to become an important institution at BYU and in the world.”