Born on August 26, 1917, in Wilton, New Hampshire. He received his A.B. degree, summa cum laude, from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1939, and his LL.B degree from the Harvard Law School in 1942. Mr. Smith held honorary degrees from Pepperdine University, DePaul University, and the University of San Diego.
From 1942 to 1946, Mr. Smith served in the U.S. Naval Reserve, reaching the rank of lieutenant. In 1946 he joined the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles, where he was a senior partner when appointed Attorney General by President Reagan.
Mr. Smith was a member of the University of California Board of Regents, serving as Chairman for three terms; a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, serving as President from 1975 to 1978; and a member of the Advisory Council of the Harvard University School of Government. He was a member of the U.S. Advisory Commission on International Education and Cultural Affairs from 1971 to 1978, and the Advisory Board of the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University from 1978 to 1982. He was a director of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles from 1963 to 1972. Mr. Smith was a trustee of the Huntington Library and Art Gallery, the Washington National Symphony Orchestra, and the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, and served as a trustee of the Claremont McKenna College, the Cate School, and the Northrop Institute of Technology.
Mr. Smith was a member of the American Law Institute, the American Judicature Society, and the Institute of Judicial Administration's Board of Fellows. He was a fellow of the American Bar Foundation.
Mr. Smith was sworn in as the 74th Attorney General on January 23, 1981 by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger. He resigned in February 1985 after serving over four years, longer than any Attorney General since Herbert Brownell. He died October 29, 1990 in Los Angeles, California.