College of Law

Gayle Shor Goldsmith '89

Dedicating Focus to Environment and Sustainability

May 3, 2021

Gayle Shor Goldsmith

Gayle Shor Goldsmith '89 lived in Cincinnati and planned to remain there for law school and beyond. That changed when she visited Toledo Law. Gayle was 26 years old when she applied and knew law school would be intense. She wanted a learning environment that felt as comfortable and relaxed as possible. Toledo Law was a perfect fit.

Gayle returned to Cincinnati after law school and went into practice with her father forming the law firm Goldsmith & Goldsmith. A decade later, she moved to North Carolina, narrowing her focus to personal injury, litigation, traffic, and estates and probate matters.

Gayle's interest in the environment dates back several years. In 1984, she obtained a master's degree in environmental science. A few years ago, she decided to go back to school, where she earned an LL.M. in environmental law.

Now, she plans to combine her environmental and law degrees to focus the rest of her career as an environmental and sustainability consultant. Gayle says of her career, "The transition from being a trial attorney to this phase in my life has been exceptional. I could not have done this had I not gone to law school, and Toledo Law was a perfect choice for me."

Gayle received her B.S. in geography from the University of Cincinnati, her J.D. from The University of Toledo College of Law, her M.En. from Miami University, and her LL.M. from Vermont Law School.

Q&A with Gayle Shor Goldsmith

What was your experience like at Toledo Law?
Prior to attending Toledo Law, I visited other law schools. They felt unwelcoming. My visit to Toledo Law was laid back, and the students and teachers were happy. I loved my apartment in a building built in 1926 which had character, and I lived comfortably there for three years. I made life-long friends, and in September 2017, we had our 30-year reunion. It was fun, and I was able to reconnect with friends whom I had not seen in years. I made the best choice by attending Toledo Law.

What were the turning points in your education (law school or otherwise) and career that led you to where you are now?
My life has been full of stepping stones. When I started law school, I intended to pursue a legal career in environmental law. I had been (and still am) an environmental activist. However, one month before graduation, my father, a private practitioner since 1950, had a heart attack. Upon graduation and passing the July 1989 bar exam, I decided to practice law with my father. I thought I would work as a general practitioner (criminal and civil) for two years and then transition into environmental law practice, but it did not happen. I remained active on environmental issues and was appointed to the City of Cincinnati Environmental Advisory Council. Later, I was asked by the city to establish and chair the City of Cincinnati's Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BIKE/PAC). In its first year, BIKE/PAC submitted a grant request with the federal government. The city was awarded $560,000, which was matched with the city's funds, totaling $1.2 million for bicycle/pedestrian improvements.

In 1999, I moved to North Carolina, where I continued practicing litigation and personal injury law. I became extremely active in the environmental community and decided to continue my education. I obtained an L.L.M. in environmental law from Vermont Law School. With 24 years of experience as an attorney/litigator and over 30 years of experience on environmental issues, this program took me to a whole new level. I was also on the board (and board president) of the nonprofit organization Yadkin Riverkeeper, where we fought to stop the renewal of a 50-year license for Alcoa to run their hydroelectric dams in Badin, N.C. We had a historic win, but later, the license was reissued.

I also have worked with highly respected attorneys and trial consultants. One opportunity was working with attorney Ryke Longest, director of the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic. On Dec. 5, 2014, we filed a petition to regulate carbon pollution for a 13-year-old, Hallie Turner, before the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission, which was denied. But we did not give up and appealed to the Wake County Superior Court. Later, I brought together 20 attorneys, including Ryke, and environmental activists to meet with nationally known trial consultants David Ball and Artemis Malekpour, whom I previously hired in a complex wrongful death case. The goal was to learn techniques to "Frame the Conversation on Climate Change." They donated two afternoon sessions of their time to work with us.

Toledo Law was instrumental in my ability to solve complex issues, see both sides of conflicts, and communicate in such a way that an audience will listen.

How did you find your way to North Carolina after law school?
Steve and I started dating in 1998, and he was transferred by his employer to North Carolina. We married in 1999, and I have been here ever since. Although Steve and I are no longer married, North Carolina has been a great place to raise a family, and I love being here. If you do a web search, you can see there is no lack of environmental legal work and activism in this state.

How did you settle on your practice area of choice?
As mentioned above, I worked with my father, who was a general practitioner. Due to my father's health, I knew that I needed to step into a litigation role in our office. An attorney recommended I accept felony appointments which was a great opportunity to learn litigation. The experience has been invaluable.

Upon moving to North Carolina, I practiced with a firm that handled personal injury. I still had cases in Cincinnati and went back as needed to continue our practice there. Unfortunately, in 2002, my father passed away. I closed our office in Cincinnati, went into private practice here in Clemmons, and narrowed my areas of law to personal injury, litigation, traffic, and estate matters. As of last summer, I resolved my last litigation case. My plan is to wrap up my current personal injury cases and focus on a small number of clients for estate planning and administration.

I look forward to working as a consultant on environmental issues (some legal and some not) and sustainability. I am also in the process of writing a book on topics related to the environment, climate change, and activism.

What has been the toughest aspect of your work during the last year?
The toughest part of my work has been the downsizing of my office. Before COVID-19, I had planned to reduce my caseload. My legal assistant took another job while continuing to work for me part-time. As COVID-19 worsened, my assistant left, and I now handle all my work (legal and administrative) with a little help from a previous paralegal. I moved from an office that was 2½ times the size of my current one (in the same building) and have an office at home. This is great! But it all takes work. (It didn't help that major landscaping and renovations of my home were in the plans at the same time–before COVID.) I am working on minimizing my carbon footprint.

What have you found most satisfying about your career so far?
I have handled various types of cases, from criminal to civil, and have had the opportunity to handle complicated wrongful death cases. I am a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. I have studied trial techniques from Gerry Spence's Trial Lawyers College, which was not just an amazing opportunity post-law degree but also taught me how to step into others' shoes in the real world and communicate with individuals from all walks of life. Working with renowned trial consultants (David Ball and Artemis Malekpour), not only on a complicated wrongful death case but also on "Framing the Conversation on Climate Change," has also been a highlight of my career. The transition from being a trial attorney to this phase in my life has been exceptional.

What suggestions do you have for current law students and new lawyers who might be interested in the type of work you do and the practice area you are currently working in?
Unlike when I was in law school, there are a lot of environmental law opportunities. Find your passion and follow it.

Life can't be only about work. What other things did you enjoy doing, and how did you find time?

  1. I have been an avid cyclist since 1979. I still ride all the time, and during COVID-19, when there initially were fewer cars on the road, I took advantage of going out for rides.
  2. I am the director of global environmental stewardship for the International Human Rights Consortium, which participates at the United Nations. I love the ability to meet people from different cultures.

Finding the time has always been difficult. I am not a person that ever would say I am bored, but you have to be careful not to put too much on yourself. You must pick your priorities. No one else can, nor will they, do it for you. Balance is important, and it is essential to give yourself a break from intense work.

Do you have a favorite memory from attending Toledo Law?
My friend Mike Kaplan '89 and I had classes and studied together at law school. The first time we studied together, Mike made us stop at 3 p.m. He refused to miss his soap opera, "General Hospital"! That was a memory I will always have. 3:00, General Hospital.

How did Toledo Law prepare you for your legal career?
It taught me how to think like a lawyer. In my master's program, I learned how to research and problem solve as a scientist. I built on that at Toledo Law by learning how to solve legal problems. There is always more than one solution to a problem. In 1999, I became a certified mediator, and recently I became trained in collaborative law. All of this has been because I was taught how to think like a lawyer.

What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about environmental justice, climate change, and sustaining a world for future generations. My undergraduate degree provided me with an understanding of physical geography and the connection between where others live and how their physical geography shapes their culture and lifestyle.

Share something you want Toledo Law alumni to know about you.
Steve and I adopted our children, Hal (now 19) and Rose (18), from the Republic of Georgia. It is a beautiful country, and there is a lot of history.

Can you share any good advice others have shared with you?
Before graduating from law school, my environmental mentor, Mike Fremont, recommended that I find a job doing what I like as an attorney. In the 1980s, the environmental law jobs included representing corporations or nonprofit organizations. There were more jobs working for the corporations, and I didn't see that as a fit for me. And the pay from the nonprofit sector was not very high. I will never regret my choice of working with my father.

Last Updated: 6/27/22