On this year’s Business North Carolina annual list of Legal Elite lawyers, 705 attorneys were selected, fewer than 3 percent of the state’s lawyers. The group this year includes at least 30 Wilmington-area lawyers.
To compile the annual list, Business North Carolina asks every member of the N.C. State Bar living in North Carolina to vote for 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.
Business North Carolina added two new categories this year for its Legal Elite list: appellate and immigration.
YOEL H. BALTER
CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Corporate Counsel
FIRM: Liberty Healthcare Management
TITLE: Vice president and general counsel
EDUCATION: University of Pennsylvania (B.A.); UNC Chapel Hill (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: “Serving as in-house counsel, I have been fortunate to have spent my career working with a dedicated team of intelligent, ethical, experienced and passionate professionals. My clients communicate the mission and responsibility of being health care providers every day. This organizational culture provides an exceptionally strong foundation upon which I provide legal guidance in an interesting and wide variety of areas of the law,” Balter said. A
REAS OF FOCUS: Health law, employment law, corporate governance, transactions and financing
CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Construction (Also named to Super Lawyers- Construction Litigation)
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
FIRM: McAngus Goudelock & Courie
TITLE: Managing partner
EDUCATION: Campbell University Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law (J.D.); University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (B.A.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Bisplinghoff is a board-certified specialist in workers’ compensation law. He regularly represents a wide variety of employers, carriers and third-party administrators in all stages of workers’ compensation litigation before the N.C. Industrial Commission and North Carolina appellate courts. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for Kid’s Chance of North Carolina, a non-profit devoted to providing scholarships to children whose parents were severely injured or killed in workplace accidents. In December 2014, after practicing with the same firm for seven years, he expanded the firm’s footprint to the coast, opening MGC’s Wilmington office.
AREA OF FOCUS: Workers’ compensation
ALGERNON BUTLER III
CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Bankruptcy (Also named to Super Lawyers-Bankruptcy: Business)
FIRM: Butler & Butler
LLP TITLE: Managing Partner
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A. and J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Butler represents businesses and individuals, both debtors 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. He is Certified by N.C. State Bar Board of Legal Specialization and American Board of Certification as a Specialist in both business bankruptcy and consumer bankruptcy law.
ALEXANDER C. DALE
CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Appellate
FIRM: Ward & Smith PA
EDUCATION: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (B.A. and M.A.); Duke University School of Law (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Dale’s practice experience encompasses a broad range of business law matters, including experience representing individuals, start-ups, small businesses and multi-national companies in a variety of fields. His experience includes intellectual property transactional matters, corporate governance, business organization and succession planning, contract negotiation and complex business litigation.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Appellate practice, business and commercial litigation, copyright and trademark law, intellectual property litigation, media law, homeowners association representation and securities litigation
FRED B. DAVENPORT JR.
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
MATTHEW B. DAVIS
CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Litigation
COMPANY: N2 Publishing
TITLE: General Counsel
EDUCATION: UNC Chapel Hill (B.A. and J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Davis provides general business counsel to N2 Publishing. Before moving in-house, his legal practice was focused on business and real estate litigation, and community association law. A
REAS OF FOCU: General corporate law
G. STEPHEN DIAB
CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Business FIRM: Murchison, Taylor & Gibson
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.S. Accounting) and J.D. (with high honors)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Diab was included in Business North Carolina’s Legal Elite 2003 to 2012 and again 2014-16 and again this year. He is a certified public accountant (N.C. silver medalist, 1986 Uniform CPA Exam) 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.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Mergers and acquisitions, trusts and estates, corporate law and business and tax planning
SAMUEL B. FRANCK
CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Real Estate FIRM: Ward and Smith PA
TITLE: Attorney EDUCATION: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (B.S.); College of William & Mary Law School (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Franck leads Ward and Smith’s Real Estate practice and is certified by the North Carolina State Bar as a Board Certified Specialist in Real Property Law: Commercial Transactions. His practice experience includes all aspects of commercial real estate and community association matters. He regularly assists commercial and residential developers in the acquisition, subdivision, development, zoning and sale of real property, including the formation of complex, mixed-use planned communities, commercial and residential condominiums and multi-tenant commercial projects.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Commercial real estate acquisition, financing, development, subdivision and sale; development of condominiums and planned communities, and mixed-use projects; condominium/community association law; zoning, subdivisions and land use planning law; Interstate Land Sales Act compliance and issues
H. MARK HAMLET
CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Construction (Also named to Super Lawyers- Construction Litigation)
FIRM: Hamlet & Associates PLLC
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
PAIGE E. INMAN
CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Young Guns
FIRM: The Lea/Schultz Law Firm
EDUCATION: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (B.A., Pi Beta Phi); Campbell University (J.D.)
AREAS OF FOCUS: Family law, divorce, custody, child support, alimony, property division, separation agreements, premarital agreements and adoptions
JILL PETERS KAESS
CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Tax/Estate Planning (Also named to Super Lawyers- Estate & Probate Planning)
FIRM: Smith Moore Leatherwood
TITLE: Partner, Wealth Management & Taxation Leader
EDUCATION: UNCW (B.S.) summa cum laude; Wake Forest University (J.D.) magna cum laude
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Peters Kaess is a member of the trusts and estates team in Smith Moore Leatherwood’s Wilmington office. She assists clients in drafting and executing comprehensive estate plans, with specific emphasis on estate tax, gift tax and charitable gift planning. She also assists fiduciaries, such as executors and trustees, on matters involving estate and trust administration.
AREAS OF FOCUS: NC State Bar Board Certified Specialist in estate planning and probate law; Certified Public Accountant
HENRY KITCHIN JR.
CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Antitrust (Also named to Super Lawyers-Bankruptcy: Business)
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; and lender liability lawsuits
CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Tax/ Estate Planning (Also named to Super Lawyers- Estate Planning & Probate)
FIRM: Kohut & Adams
PA TITLE: Shareholder
EDUCATION: University of California, Irvine (B.A.); Wake Forest University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: “I have the privilege to represent many individuals and business clients,” Kohut said. “Developing estate plans, assisting with the administration of the estates of loved ones, forming business entities, assisting business owners and volunteering with bar organizations each provide opportunities to make a difference.”
AREAS OF FOCUS: Trust and estate planning and administration, and business law
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, 2009-2018; North Carolina Super Lawyers 2009-2018; 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
EDUCATION: Wake Forest University (B.A., summa cum laude, and J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Certified Superior Court mediator; coached the North Carolina-champion team to a No. 2 finish at the National High School Mock Trial Championship; Civil Rules Committee for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina; Adison Hewlett Pro Bono Award recipient.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Civil litigation, employment, business law and homeowners association representation
CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Young Guns (Also named to Super Lawyers-Rising Stars: Estate Planning & Probate)
FIRM: Murchison, Taylor & Gibson
PLLC TITLE: Partner/member
EDUCATION: UNCW (B.A. and B.S.); Campbell University Law School (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Miars’ practice experience includes a wide range of business and transactional, estate and trust-related matters. Her practice is primarily devoted to representing privately owned businesses and business owners, counseling them in all phases of their business life, from formation or acquisition, to planning, strategy and growth, through sale and transition. She also represents business owners, individuals and families in business, estate planning and tax matters, assisting them with personal and business matters including succession planning, charitable giving and estate and tax planning strategies.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Business law and taxation; mergers and acquisitions; estate planning and probate; estate and trust litigation
CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Criminal Law (Also named to Super Lawyers- Rising Stars: Criminal Defense/White Collar) FIRM: Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog
LLP TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: Davidson College (B.A.), Mercer University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Mincey focuses his practice on white collar criminal defense. He represents companies, health care institutions, boards of directors, executives, public officials and other professionals in government investigations, corporate crises and sensitive matters. He defends clients in prosecutions of federal and state governments, clients who are frequently entangled in simultaneous civil, criminal and regulatory investigations. This includes actions by the Department of Justice, state Attorneys’ General offices, District Attorneys’ offices and other agencies.
AREAS OF FOCUS: White Collar Criminal Defense
WILLIAM ODEN III
CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Employment (Also named to Super Lawyers-Rising Star: Employment & Labor)
FIRM: Ward and Smith
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-Construction (Also named to Super Lawyers Top 100 list and Super Lawyers-Personal Injury General: Plaintiff) FIRM: Rhine Law Firm
EDUCATION: University of Tampa (B.A.); Wake Forest University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Rhine has handled 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 28 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-Family (Also named to Super Lawyers-Family Law)
FIRM: Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed
EDUCATION: UNCW (B.A. and M.Ed.); Campbell University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Sayed has been a partner at Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed since 2005. She is certified by the N.C. State Bar as a family law specialist. She is past-president of the 5th Judicial Bar. Before becoming an attorney, she was a chemistry teacher and assistant principal with the New Hanover County Schools and taught chemistry at UNCW.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Divorce, custody, child support, alimony, property division, separation agreements, premarital agreements and adoptions
JOHN R. SLOAN
CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Tax/ Estate Planning
FIRM: Ward and Smith PA TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (B.A. and J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Sloan leads Ward and Smith’s Trusts and Estates practice. He is certified by the North Carolina State Bar as a Board Certified Specialist in Estate Planning and Probate Law. Sloan’s practice experience encompasses estate planning, estate administration, estate and gift tax planning, and related services primarily, though not exclusively, to high net worth individuals and families. His practice also involves business succession planning for closely-held business owners, asset protection and estate planning with IRAs and retirement accounts.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Estate and gift taxation; estate planning and estate administration; trust planning; business succession planning; asset protection planning; estate planning with IRAs and retirement accounts
CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Employment
FIRM: Cranfill, Sumner & Hartzog LLP Title: Partner
EDUCATION: Louisiana State University (B.A. and J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: I remember every sincere “thank you” I get from a client. Those are the highlights.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Toups handles all aspects of employment law, from drafting and negotiating employment contracts to litigating cases before various government agencies and state and federal courts. He is also a certified mediator and in that capacity is often selected by his peers to assist them in resolving disputes.