Spotlight: Christopher “Smitty” Smith
By Kelly K. James
Christopher “Smitty” Smith didn’t intend to become a mediator — or even an attorney. A volcano changed all that.
“I was going to go to medical school and a volcano destroyed the island,” says Smitty, who works out of Miles’ Savannah office. “So, I moved in with my parents in Florida and tended bar until my dad told me to get out. He said, ‘If you can’t go to medical school, why not go to law school — you like talking,’” he adds with a laugh.
He admits he hated the first year of law school but second year, he made the mock trial team — and found he loved it. “I really enjoyed telling my story of the case to the jury. Plus, I met my wife, Nikki, who was one of the witnesses. I was hooked,” he says, adding that his trial partner went onto become Georgia’s Attorney General.
Starting out as a young litigator at Weinberg Wheeler, Smitty handled excess claims and took over cases that were going to trial across the country. Moving to Savannah, he became a partner at Hunter Maclean before starting his own law firm. Along the way, he became certified as a mediator. “I’ve always been able to see both sides of a case very well,” he says. “There are litigators who will scream and yell and bang their own shoes on the table, and I’m not like that. The more I mediated, the more I enjoyed it.”
Smitty joined Miles’ Savannah office in 2019, mediating cases while continuing his law practice focusing on ports and logistics. Then, during COVID, when the courts (and the world) ground to a halt, he decided he’d had enough of sitting at his desk and returned to school at Savannah State to earn his teaching certificate in Middle School Social Studies.
“I decided that I was going to mediate fulltime and teach, and so I parted ways with my law firm,” he says. Today he substitute-teaches and does learning support at Bethesda Academy while coaching varsity football and lacrosse at Savannah Country Day School. “I have a passion for history, and really enjoy teaching and coaching students. They bring a lot of energy, and as a substitute, sometimes I have to learn a new subject on the spot,” he says. “I make it a point to try and learn something new every day.”
This passion for learning carries over to his mediation practice. “One of the things I enjoy most about the law is that it gives you the opportunity to explore all kinds of different fields. Although I have experience mediating all kinds of cases, you still get the chance to learn something new, whether its an obscure timber valuation law or the latest developments in cybercrime,” says Smitty.
Learning from His Coach
Smitty attributes much of his success to his parents and his high school football coach, Brad Best. “He was a major influence in my life,” he says. “I told him I wanted to play football in college when I was a junior, weighing all of 165 pounds. Instead of laughing me out of the gym, he told me to show up at 6:00 am the next morning with three lunches — two for me and one for him, since after all, he was getting there at 6:00 am.” Over the next year, Smitty trained and gained almost 100 pounds while Coach Best drove him to different colleges to help him pursue his dream. Because of his coach’s efforts, Smitty got the opportunity to play both football and lacrosse while at the College of William and Mary.
“Coach Best is the reason I’m a coach now,” he says. “When a young athlete knows that you believe in them, then they start believing in themselves, then nothing can stop them.”
From Coaching Players to Coaching Attorneys — and Parties
Smitty uses his coaching experience on a daily basis as a mediator. “I’ll tell the parties that you may be on two different teams, but today at mediation, everyone is working towards the same goal— a fair and reasonable resolution of the case.”
“A coach is there to encourage his players and to help them in the performance of the game,” he continues. “In mediation you listen. And if you listen, you may discover what the parties say they want is not really what they need. A mediation is no different than coaching a football game on Friday night. You encourage the parties; you push them; you get them where they need to be — but it’s up to them to carry it over the goal line.”
When he’s not mediating, teaching, or coaching, Smitty enjoys spending time with his family, including his wife, Nikki, an attorney who specializes in medical malpractice defense. The two have twin boys who are freshmen in high school, as well as a Gussie, a yellow lab who runs away whenever she spots a deer, which seems to happen just about every night. Smitty also enjoys reading and hiking in his free time, as well as shooting pistols and shotguns at local clubs.
But aside from his family, it’s clear that his passion is coaching — whether he’s doing it on the sidelines of a football game or in a mediation conference room.
ABOUT MILES MEDIATION & ARBITRATION
Miles Mediation & Arbitration is shaping the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) industry with our comprehensive professional services model that combines the expertise of our highly skilled, diverse panel of neutrals with an unparalleled level of client support to guide and empower parties to fair, timely, and cost-effective resolution regardless of case size, specialization, or complexity. For more information, please call 888-305-3553 or email email@example.com.