North Carolina has more than 28,000 licensed lawyers across the state. This section reflects only a sampling of some of the most powerful, most of whom work for larger firms in the bigger metro areas. This list focuses mainly on those chosen for leadership positions by their peers.
partner | K&L Gates
Ackermann is the national law firm’s finance practice area leader. She joined K&L in 2012 after working as a partner at Alston & Bird. She is a graduate of Furman University and the University of South Carolina School of Law.
managing partner | James, McElroy & Diehl
Barnes, 58, represents closely held businesses and real estate developers. A Salem State College and UNC School of Law graduate, she succeeded Pender McElroy as the firm’s leader in 2014.Read More
First job: Operating the staple machine at a button factory
North Carolina’s challenge: Barriers to economic mobility
Best advice: It was from my mother when I graduated high school: Follow your dreams but have a Plan B.
managing partner | Kilpatrick, Townsend & Stockton
Chairman of the firm’s environment and production regulation team, Berlin, 61, has been at his firm for nearly 35 years. With bachelor’s and law degrees from Wake Forest University, he’s a member of Business North Carolina’s Legal Elite Hall of Fame under environmental law.Read More
First job: Mowing lawns
Employer’s distinction: Genuine care and concern for its employees
North Carolina’s challenge: Uniting to work on challenges
Proud family accomplishment: We love being together.
Person you admire: Frederick Douglass
Favorite recent book: Silas Marner by Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot)
managing partner | Poyner Spruill
For more than 20 years, Cahill, 53, has represented corporations in state and federal court. A UNC Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University School of Law graduate, he’s been a partner at Poyner since 2001 and managing partner since 2017.Read More
First job: Janitor at office buildings
North Carolina’s challenge: Expanding and maintaining a top-tier workforce. That requires a sound education system, quality and affordable health care, and well-designed infrastructure in our cities and towns.
Favorite passion: Anything outdoors, from hiking to yard work
Decision you would change: Not studying Spanish in college
JOSEPH CHESHIRE V
partner | Cheshire Parker Schneider
Cheshire opened his practice in 1978. He’s handled many highly publicized cases, including representing the wrongfully accused Duke University lacrosse players. The UNC Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University School of Law graduate led the creation of the state’s Indigent Defense Services Commission.
partner | Schell Bray
Christy, 62, is president of the North Carolina State Bar. A graduate of Appalachian State University and UNC School of Law, her practice focuses on commercial real estate transactions. North Carolina Super Lawyers magazine listed her among the top real estate lawyers in 2010 through 2014, 2019 and 2020.Read More
First job: Lifeguard
North Carolina’s challenge: Better access to justice
Favorite passion: Having friends and family over for dinner on our porch
Person you admire: Kimberly Traverse, who advocates for her 4-year-old son, who is battling an aggressive cancer
Favorite recent book: Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
LOIS WAGMAN COLBERT
partner | Kilpatrick Townsend
Colbert leads the international firm’s employee benefits practice group. A University of Illinois and University of Michigan Law School graduate, she wrote for or edited a decade’s worth of annual supplements to employee benefits law. She has been listed in Super Lawyers.
managing partner | Tuggle Duggins
A graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University School of Law, Duggins, 51, helps clients navigate litigation related to construction, complex business disputes and real estate. He serves on the board of directors for Greensboro’s chamber, merchants and education alliance groups.Read More
First job: Paper boy
Employer’s distinction: Our new building and office space creates a signature, high-energy and collaborative workspace.
North Carolina’s challenge: Infrastructure and affordability of postsecondary education
Best advice: Be intrepid in all things. (my dad)
Favorite passions: Wood chopping and fire building. (We recently moved to the country.)
Person you admire: Thomas Jefferson
Decision you would change: I would have gained valuable work experience before attending law school.
Favorite recent book: The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles
Favorite music: Country
Something surprising: At age 5, I found the golden egg at a citywide Easter egg hunt and won a stuffed bunny that was bigger than me.
managing partner | Young Moore and Henderson
Duke, 62, leads the firm’s trucking and transportation practice group. He’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and Wake Forest University School of Law.Read More
Employer’s distinction: Having transitioned from its founders to a third generation of leadership, the firm’s principles originally practiced in 1954 remain firmly in place today.
Best advice: If you’re concerned whether something is ethical, you already know the answer. Make your word your bond; never renege on anything you say or promise.
Proud family accomplishment: My dad, 92, founded the county’s first volunteer rescue squad, chaired the industrial development authority and airport, and helped start a community bank. His last business venture involved establishing a cemetery.
Something surprising: I was a part-time Scooby-Doo-costumed character during college.
co-managing director | Ward and Smith
The Ahoskie native, 45, specializes in civil litigation and has experience in trade secret misappropriation, intellectual property infringement, corporate dissolution and antitrust disputes. He has bachelor’s and law degrees from Wake Forest University.Read More
First job: Farm laborer
North Carolina’s challenge: The rural-urban divide, including transportation infrastructure, broadband internet access, utilities and economic development
Best advice: Never do anything halfway.
Proud family accomplishment: Serving and supporting eastern North Carolina
Favorite passions: Fishing offshore and spending time in the woods
Favorite music: Classic rock and reggae
founder, president, CEO | Law Offices of James Scott Farrin
Farrin has used heavy broadcast advertising to build one of the state’s biggest personal injury and product liability practices. He is a Trinity College and Duke University School of Law graduate. He received the North Carolina Advocates for Justice’s 2011 Citation of Excellence Ebbie Award.
JAMES FERGUSON II
founder, president | Ferguson, Chambers & Sumter
The Asheville native co-founded the state’s first integrated law firm in 1967. He has been a key N.C. civil rights leader over the past 50 years. An N.C. Central University and Columbia University law school graduate, he has taught at Harvard University Law School.
founder, managing partner | Francis Law Firm
A Princeton University and Duke University School of Law graduate, Francis was a federal prosecutor before opening his firm. He is a former Raleigh City Council member and a founding director of North State Bank.
KIMBERLY BULLOCK GATLING
partner, chief diversity and inclusion officer | Fox Rothschild
A graduate of N.C. A&T State University and George Washington University, Gatling, 46, joined a Fox Rothschild predecessor firm in 2001. She chairs the United Way board and serves on the Cone Health Foundation board of directors.Read More
North Carolina’s challenge: Access to affordable health care. North Carolina is one of 12 states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid.
Proud family accomplishment: Being a wife and mother of three sons
Favorite recent book: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
Favorite music: Hip-hop from the ’90s
managing partner | Womble Bond Dickinson
With more than 25 years of experience, including intellectual property and telecommunications-franchise specialties, Goodman is Charlotte office managing partner and leads its business-litigation practice group. He is a Duke University and Harvard University Law School graduate. Womble Bond has more than 950 lawyers in 19 U.S. and eight U.K. offices.
president | Van Winkle Law Firm
A graduate of the University of Tennessee School of Law, Grabenstein leads a firm of more than 35 lawyers. He joined Van Winkle in 1992 after working as an assistant attorney general in Tennessee. He focuses his practice on trusts, estates and other fiduciary-related claims.
THOMAS GRIFFIN III
managing partner | Parker Poe
Griffin, 62, focuses on the energy industry, practicing in environmental, litigation and renewable energy. He is a graduate of Wake Forest University and University of Virginia School of Law.Read More
First job: Delivering TV Guides at age 10
North Carolina’s challenge: Ensuring opportunity and success are available statewide
Best advice: When I first ran for managing partner, I asked my father, who was a high-ranking military officer, for his 10 most-important aspects of leadership. All dealt with being a compassionate and thoughtful leader.
Favorite passion: Long bike rides
partner | Robinson Bradshaw
North Carolina Lawyers Weekly’s 2017 Lawyer of the Year, Harrington, 58, chairs the firm’s litigation department, representing corporate clients in a variety of business matters. He has bachelor’s and law degrees from Duke University and has been a president of the Mecklenburg County Bar.Read More
First job: Summer camp counselor
Employer’s distinction: We attract talented and innovative lawyers, we have a collegial environment, and we devote time and resources for our profession and communities.
North Carolina’s challenge: Closing our opportunity gaps. Access to excellent education varies too much by race, ethnicity, socio-economic status and location.
Favorite passion: Community service. I’ve served in leadership roles for many organizations, including the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Person you admire: Julius Chambers for his dedication to civil rights
Favorite music: R&B and jazz
member | Nexsen Pruet board of directors
Heckman, 55, is one of three North Carolinians inducted into the American College of Construction Lawyers. He has bachelor’s and law degrees from UNC Chapel Hill.Read More
First job: Hardware sales
Employer’s distinction: We look out for our clients’ best interests in all areas of their business.
North Carolina’s challenge: The growing wealth disparity
Best advice: “Take your work seriously, but never let it be the reason you get out of bed each morning.” (Winburne King, my first real boss)
Favorite recent book: The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett
Favorite music: Americana/alt-country
partner | Holt Sherlin
President of the North Carolina Bar Association and North Carolina Bar Foundation, Holt has practiced for more than 30 years. Named to Business North Carolina’s Legal Elite, he is a Wake Forest University and UNC School of Law graduate.
partner | McGuireWoods
A member of the firm’s executive committee, Hosmer is a Yale University and UNC School of Law graduate. Her practice is focused on transactions involving aviation and other equipment. Chambers USA included her in its America’s Leading Lawyers for Business from 2016 to 2019. McGuireWoods has nearly 1,000 lawyers, according to the National Law Journal.
managing partner | Hutchens Law Firm
Leading a 200-employee firm with more than 35 lawyers that he started 41 years ago, Hutchens focuses his practice on real estate matters. He is a graduate of N.C. State University and earned his MBA and law degrees from Wake Forest University.
BETH TYNER JONES
office managing partner | Womble Bond Dickinson
Jones, 57, leads the international firm’s education and school law team. The Best Lawyers in America has recognized her work since 2015. She has bachelor’s and law degrees from Campbell University, where she was the first female student government president.Read More
First job: Scooping ice cream
North Carolina’s challenge: The disparate opportunities for its urban and rural residents
Favorite passions: Supporting housing for all and women’s basketball
Favorite recent books: Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson and The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
C. MATTHEW KEEN
managing shareholder | Ogletree Deakins
A lecturer and contributor to North Carolina Employers’ Desk Manual, Keen has practiced labor and employment law for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of N.C. State University and UNC School of Law.
founding partner | Edwards Kirby
Kirby, 70, has handled many high-profile cases as a longtime partner of former U.S. Sen. John Edwards. He has bachelor’s and law degrees from UNC Chapel Hill.Read More
North Carolina’s challenge: Two worlds exist in our state. We are not doing enough to bring families out of poverty, relieve hardships and level the playing field.
Best advice: If you always do the honorable thing and the right thing, you will sleep well at night.
Proud family accomplishment: My grandfather served 16 years in the state legislature, while my father served 12. My grandmother was in charge of the civilian workforce at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base during World War II. My mother was an East Carolina University trustee when the medical school was started.
Something surprising: When I am traveling alone, I turn up hard rock music to relax.
managing partner | Smith Anderson
Kirkland, 60, works with venture-capital and private-equity funds and companies from many sectors at the largest Triangle-based law firm. He has bachelor’s and law degrees from UNC Chapel Hill.Read More
First job: Working at a brake-shoe factory
Best advice: “We take care of the people, the products and the profits — in that order.” (Jim Barksdale)
Proud family accomplishment: My two adult children, who are goal-oriented and have big hearts
managing partner | Hedrick Gardner Kincheloe & Garofalo
Lawrence, 60, focuses his practice on civil litigation, employment law and workers’ compensation. He is a University of Scranton and Villanova University School of Law graduate.Read More
Best advice: A customer on my childhood newspaper route let me know that the most important thing you can do in your job is to do your best.
Proud family accomplishment: My wife, Laura, is chief operating officer and general counsel for Safe Alliance, a nonprofit [agency] that helps victims of domestic violence and domestic assault.
Person you admire: Mahatma Gandhi
partner | Moore & Van Allen
The first black female lawyer hired at the state’s largest law firm in 1998, McDowell, 47, co-chairs the firm’s white-collar, regulatory defense and investigations practice and is a former chair of the Charlotte Arts & Science Council. She has bachelor’s and law degrees from Duke University.Read More
First job: Summer nanny to five kids younger than 6, including twins
Employer’s distinction: We’re a nationally recognized firm that routinely handles complex matters around the globe.
North Carolina’s challenge: Our urban-rural divide. All of us struggle with economic inequality, racial justice, health care and education.
Favorite passion: Enjoying and supporting the arts
founding partner | Yates, McLamb & Weyher
With a practice focused on commercial litigation and professional liability defense, McLamb is senior counsel to the firm that he helped start. He is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and UNC School of Law.
chair, management committee | Moore & Van Allen
Mitchell, 57, is chairman of the firm’s management committee and co-chairs its financial-services practice group and business development committee. A member of the firm since 1993, he has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois and is a Washington and Lee University School of Law graduate. He specializes in loan syndications.Read More
Employer’s distinction: With more than 330 lawyers in more than 60 areas of focus, we are structured to effectively provide clients with a comprehensive suite of legal services.
managing partner | K&L Gates
Named to Best Lawyers in America for tax-law work, Mobley leads the firm’s estate planning and trusts and estates group. He is a University of South Carolina, University of South Carolina School of Law and New York University School of Law graduate. K&L Gates has nearly 1,700 lawyers and ranked as the 13th largest U.S. law firm, according to the National Law Journal.
shareholder | Ogletree Deakins
A member of the national firm’s nine-member board of directors, Morrison works with Fortune 500 businesses on immigration issues. A frequently requested presenter on the topic, she also provides customized training to companies. She is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts and New England School of Law.
managing partner | Ellis & Winters
Packer, 59, practices in civil and high-end commercial litigation with a specialty in health care product liability. The graduate of Brown University and UNC School of Law serves on the N.C. Association of Defense Attorneys’ board of directors.Read More
First job: Nursing assistant in a nursing home
Best advice: At the beginning of a difficult trial, my client said, “The only way over is through.” It applies to many situations.
Favorite recent book: The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. by Clayborne Carson
managing partner | Brooks Pierce
Phillips, 68, succeeded Ed Winslow as managing partner of the firm in 2016. He is a litigation attorney on a variety of matters including antitrust and copyright. He has a bachelor’s degree from UNC Chapel Hill and is a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law.Read More
First job: At age 8, I grew Flint corn in my grandmother’s garden. At harvest time, I sold them for 25 cents per bundle.
Best advice: Be yourself.
Favorite passion: Mountain biking
Favorite book: The WEIRDest People in the World by Joseph Henrich
managing partner | Robinson Bradshaw
The Harvard University Law School graduate is one of two North Carolinians to be president of the National Association of Bond Lawyers. The firm’s managing partner since 2015 and a member since 1989, he advises health care providers, educational institutions, banks and broker-dealers.
president | Safran Law Offices
The construction law specialist is a trustee at N.C. State University and vice chair of the N.C. Turnpike Authority. He has a bachelor’s from N.C. State University, an MBA from Wake Forest University and a law degree from Campbell University.Read More
First job: Construction laborer
North Carolina’s challenge: Continuing the critical role of public higher education
Best advice: “Never look down on any individual. We are all worthy.” (my dad)
Favorite passion: My grandchildren
People you admire: My dad and my father-in-law, both Greatest Generation folks
Favorite recent book: Factfulness by Hans Rosling
Favorite music: Anything from the 1960s
Something surprising: I love classic cars.
partner-in-charge | Alston & Bird
The corporate law specialist earned a bachelor’s at UNC Chapel Hill and a law degree at Washington and Lee University. He practiced law in Delaware before coming to Charlotte in 2004. Alston & Bird is an international law firm with about 800 lawyers and based in Atlanta.
partner | Roberts & Stevens
Stevens, 51, represents a diverse clientele, including the recreational sports industry. He has bachelor’s and law degrees from UNC Chapel Hill.Read More
First job: Washing dishes
North Carolina’s challenge: Infrastructure and environmental protections
Proud family accomplishment: My two daughters
Favorite passion: Trail running
Person you admire: My father
Favorite music: Americana
Something surprising: I’m passionate about North Carolina history.
managing partner | Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog
Part of the first class of North Carolina lawyers certified in privacy and information security, Wall, 46, is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and Campbell University Law School.Read More
First job: Behind the counter at Davis Mutual Drugs in Raleigh
North Carolina’s challenge: Most urban counties are doing well, but many rural counties struggle. Sharing the state’s prosperity is critical to the future.
Favorite passion: Running
Person you admire: Royce Hathcock, Neighbor to Neighbor executive director in Raleigh
Something surprising: My sons and I are English Premier League soccer fans.
co-managing director | Ward and Smith
A graduate of the University of Maryland with a Campbell University law degree, Williams, 34, specializes in labor and employment law. She also is a member of the hemp law practice group.Read More
First job: Helping customers at Patterson Farm Market & Tours in Rowan County
Employer’s distinction: We are united around the vision that we do what is best for our clients.
Best advice: God is always in control and has a plan. (my parents)
Favorite passion: My family
Favorite recent book: My grandmother’s journal
Something surprising: On my wedding day, as I was about to walk down the aisle, I slipped and fell down a flight of concrete steps. I was bleeding, and it was all over my veil and dress. My dad laughed and said, “Well, Dev, you’ve always had a way of making things interesting!” I use this story to ease anxious brides who are worried something will not go as planned. Something will go “wrong,” yet it will still be perfect.
president | Bell Davis Pitt
A member of the firm for more than 20 years, Williams assists clients with business, commercial, professional negligence and fiduciary disputes, representing them in federal and state courts. He is a UNC Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University School of Law graduate. Bell Davis Pitt has about 35 lawyers.
JAMES WYATT III
partner | Wyatt & Blake
Wyatt, 63, specializes in white-collar defense, whistleblower cases and class-action cases. He is a Vanderbilt University and Duke University School of Law graduate.Read More
First job: Farm hand
Employer’s distinction: Taking clients who are probably facing the most catastrophic situation in their lives, earning their trust then delivering on it, no matter who they are of what they allegedly have done
North Carolina’s challenge: COVID’s impact on the businesses and individuals who are most vulnerable to an interruption of income
Proud family accomplishment: Everyone in our family has invested in outreach work.
JAMES YATES JR.
managing partner | Wyrick Robbins Yates & Ponton
With more than 40 years at the firm, Yates, 67, handles private-equity transactions for investors and companies, along with corporate transactions such as mergers and joint ventures. He is a UNC Chapel Hill and UNC School of Law graduate.Read More
Employer’s distinction: Our firm is built on collaboration, mutual respect, high energy and being the best in all we undertake.
North Carolina’s challenge: Partisanship politics
Proud family accomplishment: Our daughters
Person you admire: My dad, 98, who worked until he was 85 and treats everyone with respect