Sunday, November 27, 2022

Legal Elite – Litigation

Litigation: Clarence W. "Ace" Walker Kennedy Covington Lobdell & Hickman LLP, Charlotte

By Frank Maley

Ace Walker was sure there must be some mistake. How could he be the state’s top litigator when he hasn’t tried a case of any kind in more than five years? But there is no mistake. To his peers, Walker, 72, is still the best. “It’s a little embarrassing, because I can point to people who are active litigators now and who I regard as better than me.”

Maybe his backers can be forgiven for not realizing that he has moved on to other things. Walker once kept a higher profile. He was president of the North Carolina Bar Association in 1978 and 1979 and a member of the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates from 1980 to 2000. He has lectured on corporate and securities law and in the ’70s and ’80s argued rate cases for Charlotte-based Duke Power Co. before the N.C. Utilities Commission.

Now Walker specializes in corporate and securities law. “A lot of lawyers in the state know me by name and reputation, generally, but the only circumstances in which they see me operate is as a litigator. They don’t see me in corporate transactions and in securities transactions because that’s not up front. That doesn’t get attention.”

Walker makes sure it doesn’t. As far as he’s concerned, his corporate and securities work is confidential. He’s a little more open about other parts of his life.

He grew up in Durham, the son of a machine operator for cigarette maker Liggett & Myers. When Walker was a freshman at Duke, his dad opened a filling station. It was near campus and was frequented by professors, including Jack Latty, who would become dean of the law school. “He was very impressive to me. I was very close to him. He thought I should go to law school, and I did.”

After getting his law degree, Walker worked for Mudge Guthrie Alexander & Ferdon in New York. He developed an expertise in utilities and securities law and worked with Leonard Garment, who would become counsel to President Richard Nixon. But Walker and his wife, Ann-Heath, wanted to raise their children in the South. In 1959, Kennedy Covington Lobdell & Hickman needed someone with experience in securities law, and he thought Charlotte had the brightest future of any Tar Heel city.

The key to a litigator’s success, Walker says, is building trust among your audience, whether it’s a judge, jury, arbitration panel or commission. Walker is highly regarded for his ability to build consensus and resolve contentious issues. “He’s personable, so he’s good in an adversarial role, and he’s good in a nonadversarial role of trying to get people together,” says Charlotte lawyer Russell Robinson, a past Legal Elite winner.

In 1993, Walker was appointed to chair an ABA committee to recommend ways to change how the association is governed. He decided to take whatever time was needed to debate every issue completely. It took more than two years for the committee to issue its report, but its recommendations were unanimous.

Many were adopted by the House of Delegates. They helped broaden leadership opportunities for women, minorities and rank-and-file members, ABA President Dennis Archer says. The delegates assured future refinements by adopting another recommendation — mandatory governance reviews every 10 years.

But Walker says he still isn’t sure exactly why he was asked to chair the committee. “People say a lot of flattering things when they ask you to do a tough job.”

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