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Legal Elite Features 22 Area Attorneys

By Staff Reports, posted Apr 21, 2017
There were 669 lawyers who made Business North Carolina magazine’s Legal Elite list this year. Still that figure represents less than 3 percent of all attorneys in the state, according to the publication.

The group included 22 Wilmington-area lawyers.

To compile the annual list Business North Carolina asks the 23,000 active N.C. State Bar members to vote for their recommendations of top lawyers in various areas.

Lawyers were not able to vote for themselves. They were allowed to vote for members from their own firms only by voting for another outof- firm lawyer in the same category. The vote for the out-of-firm lawyer was weighed more heavily.

Here are the local attorneys who made the 2017 list:

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Construction (Also named to Super Lawyers-Construction Litigation and Super Lawyers Top 100 list)
FIRM: Block Crouch Keeter Behm & Sayed
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: Guilford College (A.B); Wake Forest University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Behm has been a partner with Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed since 2005. He previously was an associate attorney with Block, Crouch & Keeter and with Howard, Stallings, From & Hutson in Raleigh.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Civil, commercial, construction, homeowners association, trust and estates, real estate, products liability and personal injury matters in federal and state courts

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Young Guns (Also named to Super Lawyers-Rising Star: Transportation/Maritime)
FIRM: Clark, Newton & Evans PA
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: Appalachian State University (B.S.); Campbell University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Buskirk has represented clients in numerous maritime and inland transportation matters including: vessel collisions, fixed structure and cargo damage, personal injuries, wrongful death, limitation of liability actions, vessel arrest and sale, towing and salvage, charter party disputes and shipboard investigations on behalf of protection and indemnity clubs. He has also represented clients in areas of commercial, employment, real estate and planned community governance law.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Maritime and transportation law and general litigation

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Bankruptcy (Also named to Super Lawyers- Bankruptcy: Business)
FIRM: Butler & Butler LLP
TITLE: Managing Partner
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (A.B. and J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Butler represents businesses and individuals, debtor and creditors, in bankruptcy cases and in connection with non-bankruptcy alternatives, workouts and debt restructuring. Butler also serves as a Chapter 7 Panel Trustee for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court (EDNC) and as Receiver in state court proceedings. He has served several terms as a director of the Bankruptcy Section of the N.C. Bar Association and currently serves as vice chairman of the Local Rules Committee for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court (EDNC).
AREAS OF FOCUS: Financial and insolvency advice, bankruptcy avoidance, non-bankruptcy workouts, pre-bankruptcy planning, corporate reorganizations under Chapter 11, personal bankruptcies under Chapters 7 and 13, creditor representation, bankruptcy and civil litigation defense; certified by N.C. State Bar Board of Legal Specialization and American Board of Certification as a specialist in business bankruptcy and consumer bankruptcy law

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Bankruptcy
FIRM: Carter & Carter
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: Wake Forest University (B.A. and J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Carter has been listed in Business North Carolina’s Legal Elite in bankruptcy for over 10 years. He served as a bankruptcy trustee in Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 cases for 25 years for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court (EDNC). He and his firm, Carter & Carter, currently handle commercial litigation, corporate matters, creditor and debtor bankruptcy matters, real estate and estate planning.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Bankruptcy, business litigation, creditor and debtor bankruptcy rights, corporate matters and disputes and estate planning and administration

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Business
FIRM: Murchison Taylor & Gibson
TITLE: Member (Partner)
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A., J.D. and MBA)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Davenport joined Murchison, Taylor & Gibson in 1977, practicing business and corporate law at the firm until 1996 when he left to serve as general counsel for PPD until 2001. He was president of PPD from 2002 to 2006, and returned to Murchison, Taylor & Gibson in 2008. AREAS OF FOCUS: Business and corporate law, mergers and acquisitions, life sciences and estate planning

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Business (Also named to Super Lawyers-Tax)
FIRM: Murchison Taylor & Gibson
TITLE: Member/Partner
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel  Hill (B.S. and J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Diab was included in Business North Carolina’s Legal Elite 2003 to 2012 and again in 2014-16  and this year. He is a certified public accountant and member of the N.C. Association of Certified Public Accountants. Diab has served on the boards of directors for the New Hanover Regional Medical Center Foundation, Hill School  of Wilmington Inc., Wilmington West Rotary Club  and The Eshelman Foundation. He chaired the UNCW Foundation from 2003 to 2005.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Mergers and acquisitions, trusts and estates, corporate law and business and tax planning 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Business (Also named to Super Lawyers-Transportation/ Maritime)
FIRM: Clark Newton & Evans PA
TITLE: Managing Partner
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill; Campbell Law School; U.S. Naval Justice School
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Evans belongs to the Real Property Section of the N.C. Bar and represents developers and banks in eastern North  Carolina, as well as having a significant wills  and estates practice. Evans is also a retired Navy JAG Commander, providing him insight into land and sea transactions, finance and litigation.  While his firm conducts a general practice, it has particular strength in real estate, maritime law, business transactions and estates, and it has two of North Carolina’s six proctors in admiralty.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Business transactions, maritime law, real estate, wills and estates

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Family Law
FIRM: Cape Fear Family Law
TITLE: Board-Certified Family Law Specialist
EDUCATION: UNCW (B.A.); Campbell University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Gemmell is a contributing writer and public speaker on divorce law topics for local publications and has been  featured in national magazines. She also teaches continuing legal education classes for other attorneys throughout the state. She loves  working with divorcing clients and helping them  through the process of divorce.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Divorce, family law, child custody and alimony

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Construction (Also named to Super Lawyers-Construction Litigation)
FIRM: Hamlet & Associates
TITLE: Managing Partner
EDUCATION: Wake Forest University (B.A.); Campbell University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Hamlet worked for several years with a large, regional firm representing clients from local contractors to Fortune 500 companies. He formed his own firm in 2012 with four associate attorneys.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Construction, litigation, health care and mediation

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Young Guns
FIRM: Burney & Jones
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: N.C. State (B.S.), Charlotte School of Law (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Jones notes a highlight as “being able to advocate for indigent clients in both New Hanover and Pender counties to ensure that each person, regardless of income,  race or background has quality representation”  as well as “participating in Teen Court, where  I am able to teach local high school students  about the practical applications of trying cases  and presenting evidence.”
AREAS OF FOCUS: Criminal defense, family law, juvenile law (delinquency/DSS), traffic, wills 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Real Estate 
FIRM: Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: Campbell University (B.S. and J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Keeter is a partner with Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed and previously was partner with Carr, Swails, Huffine, Crouch & Keeter as well as with Rountree & Seagle.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Real estate acquisition and development (commercial and residential); corporate/business law including mergers and acquisitions; zoning and land use law; estate planning including wills and trust.

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Antitrust and Legal Elite-Litigation
FIRM: McGuireWoods
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); Wake Forest University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Kitchin concentrates his practice on business and real estate and land-use litigation and regulation. He represents plaintiffs and defendants in real estate disputes, eminent domain proceedings and business, antitrust and breach of contract cases. He represents landowners and developers in land use and zoning/permitting proceedings. He also represents creditors in creditors’ rights and bankruptcy cases.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Business and commercial litigation; eminent domain and real estate litigation; land use and zoning permitting and disputes; antitrust, business tort and breach of contract cases; creditors’ rights and bankruptcy  cases; lender liability lawsuits 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Real Estate (Also named to Super Lawyers-Real Estate)
FIRM: Lee Law Firm PLLC
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); Wake Forest University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Lee started the Lee Law Firm in 2012. He has earned the Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent Peer Review Rating; Business North Carolina’s Legal Elite 2007, 2009-2017; North Carolina Super Lawyers 2009-2017; 2014 Best of the Best, Top 100 North Carolina Super Lawyers. He also was included in The Best Lawyers in America in the practice area of Real Estate and U.S. News’ Best Law Firm list. Lee has served in the state Senate since 2014 as well as a N.C. Department of Transportation board member and N.C. State Ports Authority board chairman. 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Litigation (Also named to Super Lawyers-Employment & Labor)
FIRM: Murchison Taylor & Gibson
TITLE: Member
EDUCATION: Wake Forest University (B.A. and J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: McVey has been certified as a Superior Court mediator since 2000 and is a member of the N.C. Bar Association Labor & Employment Law Section Council, 2009-present.  He is a recipient of the 2013 Addison Hewlett Jr. Award for Pro Bono Service. Representative cases include successfully defending an Italian entity in federal trial and appellate litigation alleging breach of an exclusive franchising agreement and enforcing non-competition agreements on behalf of numerous businesses and medical practices.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Litigation, mediation, employment and homeowners association representation 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Tax/Estate Planning
FIRM: Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: UNC-Asheville (B.A.); Western Michigan University (J.D.); University of Florida (L.L.M.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Morrison is a member of the firm’s Business, Estate Planning and Tax Practice Groups in Wilmington. He joined Smith Moore Leatherwood in 2012 and made partner in 2017. He is a member of the Estate Planning & Fiduciary Law Section and the Tax Section of the N.C. Bar Association. He is admitted to practice in North Carolina and in the U.S. Tax Court.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Business succession planning, corporate compliance, estate and tax planning, probate administration and IRS audit defense 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Employment
FIRM: Murchison Taylor & Gibson
TITLE: Member
EDUCATION: Amherst College (B.A.); Cornell Law School (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Murchison has practiced in Wilmington since 1983 at Murchison, Taylor & Gibson and said he considers himself “incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work with such an exceptional group of attorneys for such a long period of time.” He works with a number of corporate and individual clients, including many local health care providers and some of the area’s largest employers. “The health care and labor and employment areas are constantly evolving, which keeps my work challenging and interesting,” he said.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Health law; labor and employment; and civil litigation 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Employment (Also named to Super Lawyers-Rising Star: Employment & Labor)
FIRM: Ward and Smith
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); Campbell University (J.D. and M.B.A.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Oden’s practice focuses on employment, occupational safety and health and workers’ compensation. A former president of the New Hanover County Bar Association and Lower Cape Fear HR Association, he currently serves on NCSHRM’s Leadership Council. Oden also was appointed to serve as a founding member of the Campbell Law Alumni Association’s inaugural board of directors. He is certified as a manager of environmental safety and health programs.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Employment law, employment litigation, occupational safety and health and workers’ compensation

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Litigation (Also named to Super Lawyers Top 100 list and Super Lawyers-Personal Injury General: Plaintiff)
FIRM: Rhine Law Firm
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: University of Tampa (B.A.); Wake Forest University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Rhine has handled cases a variety of multi-million dollar lawsuits involving numerous issues, including catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, construction, products liability, trucking and commercial vehicles, mass torts and class action for 27 years. Rhine has cases pending in North Carolina state and federal courts as well as federal courts throughout the U.S. He was also named to Best Lawyers in America, Best Law Firms published in U.S. News, Martindale-Hubbell AV rating and National Trial Lawyers “Top 100 Trial Lawyers”.
AREA OF FOCUS: Complex civil litigation

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Real Estate
FIRM: Siegel & Rhodenhiser
TITLE: Member
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); Wake Forest University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Rhodenhiser has practiced law in Wilmington since 2005. His real estate practice includes representing developers on site acquisition and creation of subdivisions and condominiums and representing individual homeowners in closing home purchase and refinance transactions. Rhodenhiser is a member of the Real Estate Lawyers Association of North Carolina, N.C. Bar Association and New Hanover County Bar Association.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Real estate transactions, business transactions and estate planning

CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Employment FIRM: Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog LL
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: Louisiana State University (B.A. and J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Toups has represented employers before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Department of Labor, N.C. Industrial Commission and state and federal courts. He has extensive experience assisting employers with claims of harassment and discrimination under Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the N.C. Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA), as well as claims for unpaid wages and overtime pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the N.C. Wage and Hour Act. He is also a certified mediator.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Alternative dispute resolution; business disputes and litigation; employment; and retail, restaurant and hospitality

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Intellectual Property (Super Lawyers-Rising Star: Intellectual Property)
FIRM: Brooks Pierce McLendon Humphrey & Leonard
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); University of California, Davis (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: In his intellectual property practice, Varnum helps clients acquire, protect, enforce and exploit their trademarks, copyrights and other intellectual property assets. He also represents individuals and companies active in film projects and other types of entertainment media. At other times, Varnum provides general business counseling to all types of businesses in the region. He currently serves as chair of the Cucalorus Film Foundation and a director of the Brigade Boys & Girls Club.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Intellectual property, film/ entertainment, civil litigation and general business counseling

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Criminal Law FIRM: Brooks Pierce McLendon Humphrey & Leonard
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: Hampden- Sydney College (B.A.); Wake Forest University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Whether resolving matters quietly or fighting in the courts, West works with his clients to find the best solutions, according to the firm. “Some of my best work has happened quietly behind the scenes, protecting the reputation of a business or individual by making the issue go away,” West said. “Many of my career highlights have never seen the light of day.”
AREAS OF FOCUS: White-collar criminal defense, crisis management, complex business and corporate litigation, professional liability litigation


Local attorneys named to the Legal Elite Hall of Fame means they received the most votes in their category in a particular year and are no eligible for the annual lists. The firm listed is where they worked when they were added.
CHARLES BALDWIN IV, Brooks Pierce McLendon Humphrey & Leonard (Business/2015); B. JUDD HARTMAN, PPD (Corporate Counsel/ 2009); WILLIAM MASON, MacCord Mason (Intellectual Property/2011); DANIEL BRAWLEY, Williams Mullen (Litigation/2012); JEAN SUTTON MARTIN, Law Office of Jean Sutton Martin (Litigation/2016)

To see who was named to Thomson Reuters’ Super Lawyers list this year, click here.
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