Legal Elite – Real estate

 In 2004-01

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Real Estate: Alfred Adams Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice PLLC, Winston-Salem

By Kathy Brown

Strangers often confuse Alfred Adams for someone else, including golfer Jack Nicklaus and NASCAR driver Sterling Marlin. “I never look like me,” Adams, 57, complains.

His colleagues weren’t confused, however, when they voted him the state’s top real-estate lawyer. Clients, too, are certain that he’s deserving of the honor. “In real estate, he’s the best I’ve ever seen,” says Carl Ricker, owner of Azalea Management & Leasing, an Asheville commercial real-estate firm that Adams has represented for more than 20 years. “He is so meticulous. In as many transactions as he’s done for me — and they add up to $70 million or $80 million worth of work — I can’t think of a single instance when he has made a mistake or not caught someone else’s error.”

Adams grew up in Winston-Salem. He found his calling when his eighth-grade teacher assigned her students to research what they wanted to be when they grew up. His father didn’t know any lawyers. “So being a kid who didn’t know any better, I called Wake Forest’s law school and asked to talk to the dean.” The late Carroll Weathers invited the boy to his office and talked to him for more than an hour.

Most of his practice is built around contract work for buying and selling properties for clients such as Lowe’s and Thomasville Furniture. He learned the art of negotiation early in his career, while closing the sale of the first $100,000 home sold in north Asheville. The transaction nearly fell apart because of a $100 wall sconce.

“That was one of the first instances when I had to use diplomacy to get the buyer and seller to reach an agreement,” Adams says. He put the parties in separate rooms to diffuse the tension. He then counseled each side on the relative importance of the overall transaction. “They began to see the wall sconce was not worth the angst it had created. At the end of the day, we closed the deal — the buyer ended up buying the sconce for $50. I learned then that if you can avoid putting someone into an inescapable position and allow them to save their prestige, effective solutions can be achieved.”

Between getting his bachelor’s in history in 1968 and his law degree in 1973, he taught high school for two years in Winston-Salem and in Maryland. “Once a teacher, always a teacher,” Adams says. And he means it. For the past seven years, he has been an adjunct professor at Wake’s law school. He also has been chairman of the North Carolina Bar Association’s continuing legal education committee and its real-property section. It’s the teacher in him that has made him a good lawyer, he says. “You’ve got to teach the jury, the judge or the person on the other side of the table about your position — your theory on the law or the case.”

As an undergraduate, he worked as a ski instructor in Boone during his winter breaks. After law school, he wanted to be back in the mountains, so he started his career in Asheville. He practiced at Van Winkle, Buck, Wall, Starnes & Davis for 21 years, working on residential and commercial real-estate transactions. In 1994, Winston-Salem-based Petree Stockton recruited him and let him focus on the commercial side. He moved to Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in 2001.

Like most real-estate lawyers, Adams rarely sees the inside of a courtroom. The last case he tried was 29 years ago, when he represented an apartment complex that was suing a tenant whose dog had wet on the carpet. “I won,” Adams says, “and retired from litigation undefeated.”

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