Bankruptcy: Gregory B. Crampton • Nicholls & Crampton PA,Raleigh
Gregory B. Crampton likes to win. A half-dozen times a year, owners of failing businesses come to him for legal help and leave empty-handed. Their companies are so fouled up that he declines to take them on, figuring there is no way the businesses can be reorganized.
That pickiness comes from years of honing his reputation as a bankruptcy lawyer. He usually represents debtors, and he says he has successfully reorganized 85% to 90% of his Chapter 11 cases. “That doesn’t mean I won’t take a case that has a closer edge to it. But when I take it, I know what the edge is and still think we will have an opportunity to reorganize.”
Crampton, 56, thrives on negotiation — to a point. “To be a successful Chapter 11 debtor counsel,” he says, “you need to be able to creatively construct settlement proposals and negotiations, and you also need to be able to draw the line and say, ‘See you in court.’”
His father was an architect who practiced in Washington, D.C., where Crampton was born in 1947. His mother was from North Carolina, and when he was 3, the family moved to Raleigh, where his father ran his own firm. His mother died when he was 6. He later learned that her grandfather, Walter Clark, had been chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court from 1903 to 1924. From the time he was 8, he was determined to practice law.
At Needham Broughton High School, Crampton was an attentive student and a varsity basketball player. The team included Pete Maravich, who would become the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I career scoring leader and a pro star. One of Crampton’s roles was to throw the ball in to Maravich after the other team scored. He jokes that he probably holds a record for assists.
Crampton wanted a more personal college education than some big schools could provide, so he picked Washington and Lee, a 1,700-student school in Lexington, Va. From there, he went to UNC law school.
After graduating, Crampton clerked for a year for Walter E. Brock, chief judge of the N.C. Court of Appeals, and then took a job with a Raleigh law firm. Determined to specialize in business law, he took classes in accounting and signed up for a bankruptcy seminar given by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Thomas Moore of the Eastern District of North Carolina. A few months later, Moore appointed him trustee in a bankruptcy case involving a Lake Gaston residential real-estate project.
Crampton negotiated the sale of the land to satisfy the banks, but they came up short and demanded that lot buyers who had made down payments pay what was owed on their loans. Crampton took the side of the lot buyers and eventually the banks dropped the demand. That helped establish Crampton as an advocate for debtors. In 1984, he joined a small firm run by Tim Nicholls, which became Nicholls & Crampton. It remains small, with eight lawyers.
Last year, he went up against Thomas W. Waldrep Jr., a bankruptcy lawyer with Bell, Davis & Pitt in Winston-Salem, in the bankruptcy of Winston-Salem-based Precision Concepts, a telecommunications-parts manufacturer. Waldrep represented Bank of America, the biggest creditor, with more than $8 million in loans in default. Crampton urged the bank not to press for liquidation, arguing that a buyer could be found at a higher price than liquidation would bring. The bank held off, and the business was sold as a going concern for $9.5 million. That gave the bank more than it would have received from liquidation and enough to pay off more of the other debts, including some to unsecured creditors who probably would have gotten nothing in a liquidation.