Achievers & Accolades

Area Attorneys Chosen For 2020 Legal Elite List

By Staff Reports, posted Apr 3, 2020

Hundreds of lawyers made Business North Carolina magazine’s Legal Elite list this year. The group included Wilmington-area lawyers.
To compile the annual list, Business North Carolina asks the thousands of active N.C. State Bar members 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 out-of-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 2020 list:


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.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Health law, employment law, corporate governance, transactions and financing


CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Bankruptcy
FIRM: Carter & Carter TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: Wake Forest University (B.A. and J.D.)
HIGHLIGHTS: He has practiced law in Wilmington for over 45 years. He has been listed in Business North Carolina Magazine’s Legal Elite in bankruptcy for over 15 years.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Bankruptcy, real estate, business litigation, creditor and debtor bankruptcy rights, corporate matters, estate planning and administration


CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Business
FIRM: Murchison, Taylor & Gibson PLLC
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
FIRM: Murchison, Taylor & Gibson PLLC
TITLE: Member/Partner
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.S. and J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Diab 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


CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Employment
FIRM: Law Offices of Fred T. Hamlet
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill; Harvard Law School (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Fred Hamlet has practiced labor and employment law for over 40 years. He has not only been a frequent seminar speaker on labor and employment law topics but also has been a guest speaker on labor and employment law topics at Elon Law School, UNC Law School, and Wake Forest Law School. He has been a preceptor at Elon University School of Law since the law school was established.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Labor, employment and education law.


CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Construction (Also named to Super Lawyers- Top 100)
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.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Construction, litigation, health care and mediation


CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Construction, (Also named to Super Lawyers- Rising Stars: Civil Litigation/Defense)
FIRM: Hamlet & Associates PLLC
TITLE: Associate Attorney
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill; Campbell University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Humphries has over seven years of experience representing general contractors, developers and subcontractors against construction defect and personal injury claims in North and South Carolina. She has also represented municipalities and governmental entities in condemnation and inverse condemnation matters. She is the current president of the Coastal Women Attorneys, a chapter of the N.C. Association of Women Attorneys Inc.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Construction law, civil litigation, land use and real estate development, eminent domain


CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Real Estate
FIRM: The Humphries Law Firm
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: University of South Carolina (B.S.); Campbell University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Humphries is dually licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. He has appeared before the N.C. Appellate Courts on several occasions and has practiced maritime law in various Federal Districts.
AREA OF FOCUS: Civil litigation and real estate


CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Family and Young Guns
FIRM: Ward and Smith P.A.
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); Campbell University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Inman practices family law and estate litigation from the firm’s Wilmington office. She helps families and individuals navigate complicated family law legal processes during times of family upheaval and transition, both in the context of divorce and death. Her family law practice is multifaceted, encompassing such areas as divorce, mediation, equitable distribution, preseparation planning, separation agreements, alimony and spousal support, children’s rights, domestic violence and neglect, paternity and prenuptial agreements. She also litigates will disputes and family estate administration and settlement issues.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Family law, divorce, custody, child support, alimony, property division, separation agreements, premarital agreements


CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Young Guns
FIRM: Forrest Firm PC
TITLE: President and attorney
EDUCATION: Davidson College (A.B.); Elon University School of Law (J.D., magna cum laude)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Forrest Firm, P.C. (2017-present); Rountree Losee LLP (2013-2017).
AREA OF FOCUS: Litigate commercial disputes and complex business cases in North Carolina state and federal courts; provide general business law and transactional representation to businesses and entrepreneurs in a variety of industries.


CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Criminal (Also named to Super Lawyers-Rising Stars: Criminal Defense)
FIRM: Burney & Jones
TITLE: Owner
EDUCATION: N.C. State (B.S.); Charlotte School of Law (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Jones notes a highlight as “being able to advocate for all clients, including indigent clients, in both New Hanover and Pender counties to ensure that each person, regardless of income, race or background has quality representation.”
AREAS OF FOCUS: DWI, criminal defense, juvenile law (delinquency/DSS), traffic and family law


CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Tax/Estate Planning (Also named to Super Lawyers-Estate Planning & Probate)
FIRM: Lee Kaess PLLC
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: UNCW (B.S.); Wake Forest University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Peters Kaess is a member of the Trusts and Estates team in the firm’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. Peters Kaess is a Certified Public Accountant, a board-certified specialist in estate planning and probate law by the N.C. State Bar, and a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC).
AREAS OF FOCUS: Taxation and wealth planning; trust and estate law and administration


CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Real Estate (Also named to Super Lawyers-Real Estate)
FIRM: Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: Campbell University (B.S. and J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Keeter’s entire career has been in Wilmington. He previously practiced with Rountree & Seagle LLP, and Carr, Swails, Huffine, Crouch & Keeter LLP. He has been a partner at Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed LLP since the law firm’s inception in 1996. He has served as a member of the New Hanover County Bar Association, N.C. Bar Association Law Practice Management Section Council and N.C. Bar Association member (Real Estate, Business and Estate Planning and Fiduciary Law Sections).
AREAS OF FOCUS: Business law, real estate law, estate planning and administration


CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Appellate and Construction (Also named to Super Lawyers- Construction Litigation)
FIRM: Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog LLP
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: UNCW (B.A.); Northeastern University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Knudson focuses her civil litigation practice on matters concerning construction law, business law, community association law and other complex litigation matters. Her experience includes representing builders, developers, homeowner association boards, product manufacturers and other business professionals in contract, construction defect, business and lien disputes. In 2019, Knudson earned her Certified Litigation Management Professional (CLMP) designation from Litigation Management Institute offered by the Claims and Litigation Management Alliance.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Construction, litigation, business, community association law, appellate law


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; business law


CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Real Estate (Also named to Super Lawyers- Real Estate)
FIRM: Lee Kaess PLLC
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); Wake Forest University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Lee started the Lee Law Firm in 2012. Recently, Lee joined with Jill Kaess to form the law firm of Lee Kaess, PLLC. He has earned the Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent Peer Review Rating; Business North Carolina’s Legal Elite 2007, 2009- 19; North Carolina Super Lawyers 2009- 19; 2014 Best of the Best, Top 100 North Carolina Super Lawyers. He was also selected by his peers multiple years for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America and U.S. News’ Best Law Firm list and in 2020 was selected as a 26th Edition “Lawyer of the Year” for his work in Real Estate Law in Wilmington. Lee served in the N.C. Senate 2014-18 as well as on the N.C. Board of Transportation and N.C. State Ports Authority Board as its Chairman.


CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Employment and Litigation (Also named to Super Lawyers- Employment & Labor)
FIRM: Murchison, Taylor & Gibson PLLC
TITLE: Member
EDUCATION: Wake Forest University (B.A. and J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: “Arguing before the N.C. Supreme Court on my 33rd birthday, being part of a litigation team that obtained a total verdict in excess of $24 million on behalf of an individual defamation plaintiff in federal court; defending cases that needed to be tried to verdict and resolving others that needed to be settled.”
AREAS OF FOCUS: Civil litigation, employment, business law, homeowners association representation, mediation


CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Criminal (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 regulatory agencies.
AREAS OF FOCUS: White-collar criminal defense and government investigations


CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Employment
FIRM: Murchison Taylor & Gibson PLLC
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.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Health law; labor and employment; and civil litigation


CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Employment (Also listed in Super Lawyers- Employment & Labor)
FIRM: Ward and Smith P.A.
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); Campbell University (J.D. and M.B.A.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Oden’s practice focuses on the representation of management in employment, occupational safety and health, and workers’ compensation matters. Oden is a former president of both the New Hanover County Bar Association and Fifth Judicial District Bar, and a 2019 recipient of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Citizen Lawyer Award.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Employment law, employment litigation, occupational safety and health and workers’ compensation


CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Family Law
FIRM: The Law Office of LeeAnne Quattrucci
TITLE: Managing Attorney
EDUCATION: Wake Forest University (B.S.); UNC-Chapel Hill (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Quattrucci opened her law practice in 2011. She has been voted Wilmington’s Best Attorney by Wilmington Magazine and received the Pro Bono Publico Award from Legal Aid of North Carolina. Quattrucci has been a featured speaker at various CLEs across the country and completed over 150 adoptions. She also sits on the Alumni Board at Carolina Law and on the board of several nonprofit organizations.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Family law, juvenile, domestic and immigration


CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Real Estate
FIRM: Murchison, Taylor & Gibson PLLC
TITLE: Member (Partner)
EDUCATION: Duke University (B.A.); UNC-Chapel Hill (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Sutton advises clients in the acquisition, development, subdivision, zoning, leasing and sale of real property; and she also assists clients with the formation and management of planned communities, condominiums, timeshares, mixed-use developments and marina projects.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Commercial real estate and development


CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Young Guns (Also on Super Lawyers-Rising Stars: General Litigation)
FIRM: Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed LLP
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: N.C. State (B.A.); New England School of Law (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Tarrant concentrates his practice on representing and advising clients on complex business, financial, real estate, commercial association and land use matters. He regularly represents a variety of litigation clients in state and federal court and community associations in governance and enforcement issues, as well as energy and utility companies, developers, builders, property owners and local governments in land use, permitting and municipal law matters.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Business litigation, real estate, community associations, land use and development


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 discrimination, harassment and wage/ hour cases before various government agencies and state and federal courts. In addition to his employment practice, Toups represents clients in commercial litigation matters, including claims for breach of contract, unfair and deceptive trade practices and misappropriation of trade secrets. He is also a certified mediator.


CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Intellectual Property (Also named to Super Lawyers-Rising Stars: 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 proudly serves as a director of the Brigade Boys & Girls Club here in Wilmington.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Intellectual property, entertainment law (film and TV), civil litigation and general business counseling


CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Criminal (Also named to Super Lawyers-Criminal Defense)
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. “I work with professionals in the midst of a crisis, helping them navigate not only the legal side of the situation, but also the PR side. I help my clients understand their risk of both reputational exposure and legal liability in difficult situations.”
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 not 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); DANIEL BRAWLEY, Williams Mullen (Litigation/2012); B. JUDD HARTMAN, PPD (Corporate Counsel/ 2009); HENRY L. “HAL” KITCHIN JR., McGuireWoods LLP (Antitrust/2019); WILLIAM MASON, MacCord Mason (Intellectual Property/2011); JEAN SUTTON MARTIN, Law Office of Jean Sutton Martin (Litigation/2016)

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