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Area Attorneys Chosen For 2024 Legal Elite List

By Staff Reports, posted Apr 5, 2024
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 weighted more heavily.

The top vote-getter in each category is added to the Legal Elite Hall of Fame and is ineligible to win again (see those members below).

Here are the local attorneys who made the 2024 list.


DAVID ANDERSON

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Tax & Estate Planning
FIRM: David E. Anderson PLLC
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: Mount Olive College (B.S.); N.C. Central University (J.D.); The American College (ChFC)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: For the past 10 years, Anderson has focused his practice on estate planning and estate/trust administration. He is a past president of the New Hanover County Estate Planning Council and a member of the N.C. Estate Planning and Fiduciary Law Section Legislative Committee.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Estate planning and estate/trust administration


CHRISTOPHER BEHM

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Construction
FIRM: Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed LLP
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: Guilford College (B.A.); 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 from 2000-2005. 
AREAS OF FOCUS: Civil, commercial, construction, homeowners association, trust and estates, real estate, products liability and personal injury matters in federal and state courts


SETH BUSKIRK

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Litigation (Also named to Super Lawyers-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


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 both corporations and individuals, both debtors and creditors, in connection with financial workouts, debt restructurings, Chapter 11 and 13 reorganizations and bankruptcy liquidations. Butler also serves as a Chapter 7 Panel Trustee for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court (EDNC) and as Receiver in state court proceedings, and prosecutes and defends bankruptcy and civil litigation in both federal and state courts. He has served several terms as a director of the Bankruptcy Section of the N.C. Bar Association and on the Local Rules Committee for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court (EDNC). 
AREAS OF FOCUS: Financial and insolvency advice, bankruptcy avoidance, nonbankruptcy 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 and Consumer Bankruptcy Law. 


KRISTEN KELLEY CALLIHAN

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Real Estate 
FIRM: Boyles & Callihan
OLIVER CARTER III
CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Bankruptcy
FIRM: Carter & Carter
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill, NYU School of Law (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Carter represents lenders and borrowers in a variety of situations, including distressed debt, commercial disputes, foreclosures and bankruptcy.  He primarily represents noninstitutional creditors such as homeowners’ associations, ex-spouses, judgment creditors and business partners whose relationship has soured. He is the immediate past chair of the New Hanover County Board of Elections, and he has served on the boards of the Historic Wilmington Foundation, the Cape Fear Council of the Boy Scouts of America and the NHC Parks Conservancy.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Certified as a specialist in creditors’ rights, business bankruptcy and consumer bankruptcy; also handles routine contract disputes, title disputes and corporate matters


AL CLYBURN

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Family 
FIRM: Ward and Smith P.A.
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: N.C. State University (B.A.); UNC-School of Law (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Clyburn is an N.C. State Bar board-certified specialist in family law, with extensive experience handling cases involving divorce, child custody and visitation, spousal and child support, grandparents’ rights, pre-marital and post-marital agreements, property and debt distribution and termination of parental rights. He has represented clients for over 30 years in both the trial court and appellate divisions of the North Carolina court system.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Family law, alimony and spousal support, child custody, marital property disputes, divorce, family law appeals, separation agreements, prenuptial agreements


EDWARD “TRIP” COYNE III

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Business 
FIRM: Ward and Smith P.A.
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: Appalachian State University (B.S.); Wake Forest University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Coyne has significant experience in corporate, construction, commercial, class action, maritime and real property litigation, and regularly appears as lead or local counsel throughout the state and federal courts of North and South Carolina, as well as in other jurisdictions. He also provides general business counsel to domestic and international clients. Coyne served for two terms as law clerk to the N.C. Business Court.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Appeals; business, civil, and commercial litigation; construction litigation; maritime and admiralty  


DAVID CREECH

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Immigration
FIRM: David Creech Law Firm
TITLE: Attorney at Law, Owner/Managing Partner
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); University of Miami (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Creech, who is fluent in Spanish, has practiced immigration and nationality law since 2010. He represents clients before the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration Customs Enforcement and other agencies. Creech handles a variety of immigration cases including family-based petitions, adjustment of status (green cards), temporary employment visas, victims of certain crimes, asylum, deportation or removal defense, naturalization, citizenship and DACA.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Immigration and criminal defense


ALEX C. DALE

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Appellate
FIRM: Ward and Smith P.A.
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: UNC-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, startups, small businesses and multinational companies in a variety of fields.  He is a North Carolina board-certified specialist in appellate practice and as chair of the firm’s Appellate Practice Group, Alex is frequently asked by his colleagues within the law firm and outside of the law firm to assist clients in appellate matters.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Appellate practice, business and commercial litigation and securities litigation 


G. STEPHEN DIAB

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Corporate (Also part of Hall of Fame for Legal Elite in 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 as a past member of the board of directors for the UNCW Foundation (chair 2003-05), New Hanover Regional Medical Center Foundation, Hill School of Wilmington Inc., Wilmington West Rotary Club (president 1998-99) and The Eshelman Foundation’s board of directors.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Mergers and acquisitions, trusts and estates, corporate law and business and tax planning 


CHRIS EDWARDS 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Appellate 
FIRM: Ward and Smith P.A. 
TITLE: Attorney 
EDUCATION: Wake Forest University (B.A.); Wake Forest University School of Law (J.D.) 
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Edwards is an appellate attorney who focuses his practice on complex legal issues in both federal and state courts of appeals. A North Carolina board-certified specialist in appellate practice, Edwards has handled both civil and criminal appeals raising a wide variety of legal issues. For example, he has handled appeals in constitutional litigation, child custody litigation, employment litigation, equitable distribution litigation, estate litigation, municipal litigation, patent litigation, personal injury litigation, tax litigation, trade secrets litigation and unfair competition litigation.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Appellate, civil appellate, commercial litigation, family law appeals, complex litigation, and federal court litigation 


CHRISTINE FARRELL

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Family 
FIRM: Mulligan Attorneys PLLC
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: Indiana University (B.A.), DePaul University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Farrell has been an attorney for the past two decades years in matters regarding criminal law, family law, housing and representation of children. Farrell has focused on family law including issues of custody, child support, alimony and asset division. Farrell is also often appointed as guardian ad litem for children who have parents who are involved in disputed custody proceedings in New Hanover and surrounding counties.
AREA OF FOCUS: Family law


SAMUEL FRANCK

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Real Estate Law
FIRM: Ward and Smith P.A. 
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 an N.C. State Bar board-certified specialist in Real Property Law: Commercial Transactions. His practice experience includes all aspects of commercial real estate development and transactions, as well as community association matters. He regularly assists commercial and residential developers in the acquisition, subdivision, development and sale of real property, including the formation of complex, mixed-use planned communities, commercial and residential condominiums and multitenant commercial projects. 
AREAS OF FOCUS: Zoning and land use, commercial real estate acquisition, financing, development, subdivision and sale; development of condominiums and planned communities and mixed-use projects; condominium/ community association law; Interstate Land Sales Act compliance and issues 


KARA GANSMANN 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Tax & Estate Planning 
FIRM: Cranfill Sumner LLP 
TITLE: Partner 
EDUCATION: UNCW (B.A.); University of North Dakota (B.A. and J.D.) 
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: “The notes of thanks, the hugs and homemade cookies from families we’ve helped are truly my career highs.” Gansmann serves as chair of the firm’s Elder Law Practice Group, devoting her entire practice to elder law and estate planning. She advises clients in tactics in estate planning and eligibility for long-term care benefits. Gansmann prepares Medicaid applications and strategizes with families to preserve the assets of those who need long-term care. Gansmann also handles trust administration and probate matters. Her courtroom experience includes guardianships, hearings before state agencies for public long-term care benefits and representation of clients in trust and estate litigation.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Elder law and estate planning


DEEDEE GASCH 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Litigation   
FIRM: Cranfill Sumner LLP 
TITLE: Partner 
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); Florida Coastal School of Law (J.D.) 
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: “One of the things I enjoy most about practicing law is the people I get to meet in this career. Working collectively with a team to obtain a common goal, representing truly wonderful people during perhaps their darkest and most stressful of times, and learning from incredibly smart and talented people is what inspires me to work hard and do my best every day.” Gasch is the chair of Cranfill Sumner’s Retail, Restaurant and Hospitality Practice Group. 
AREAS OF FOCUS: Medical malpractice; premises liability; professional liability; retail, restaurant and hospitality; trucking and commercial transportation


VANESSA GONZALEZ 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Immigration 
FIRM: The Law Office of Vanessa Gonzalez 
TITLE: President/attorney 
EDUCATION: UNC-Pembroke (B.A.); UNC-Chapel Hill (J.D.)  
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Gonzalez has 12 years of experience assisting individuals obtain and maintain lawful immigration status, petition relatives and naturalize, and she defends them from deportation or removal from the U.S. She has also represented clients in traffic and family law matters specifically affecting the undocumented community. She is active in her community, having served on the boards of the Carolina Federation, YWCA Lower Cape Fear, Going Beyond the Pink and Feast Down East, and is a member of New Hanover for All and Coastal Women Attorneys. She was named to the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce/StarNews’ 40 Under 40 list in 2021 and honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award from UNCP in 2022.
AREA OF FOCUS: Immigration law


MARK HAMLET 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Construction (Also named to Super Lawyers Top 100) 
FIRM: Hamlet Law 
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 and mediation 


JUSTIN HUMPHRIES 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Real Estate (Also named to Super Lawyers-Business/Corporate)
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 


JESSICA HUMPHRIES 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Construction 
FIRM: Hamlet Law TITLE: Partner 
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill; Campbell University (J.D.) 
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Humphries has more than 11 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 serves on the boards of Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity and the New Hanover County Bar Association, and she is the immediate past-president of the Coastal Women Attorneys. She also serves on the Section council for the Litigation Section of the N.C. Bar Association.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Construction law, civil litigation, land use and real estate development, eminent domain 


PAIGE INMAN 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Family 
TITLE: Attorney 
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); Campbell University (J.D.) 
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: As a N.C. State Bar board-certified specialist in family law, Inman is dedicated to helping families and individuals navigate complicated family law legal processes during times of family upheaval and transition. Her family law practice is multifaceted, encompassing such areas as divorce, mediation, equitable distribution, separation agreements, alimony and spousal support, child custody, child support, domestic violence, paternity and prenuptial agreements.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Family law, divorce, custody, child support, alimony, property division, separation agreements, premarital agreements  


WESLEY JONES

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Construction
FIRM: The Law Office of Wesley Scott Jones P.C.
TITLE: Owner and founder
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); Campbell University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Attorney and counselor at law for 30 years serving all participants within the construction field.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Construction law and related matters


JILL PETERS KAESS

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: 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. 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.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Taxation and wealth planning; trust and estate law and administration


JEFFREY KEETER

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Real Estate (Also named to Super Lawyers-Real Estate)
FIRM: Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed LLP
TITLE: Partner 
EDUCATION: Campbell University (B.S. and J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Keeter’s entire professional 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 (formation, representation, acquisitions and sales), real estate law (commercial and residential), estate planning and administration


REBECCA KNUDSON 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Construction Law 
FIRM: Cranfill Sumner LLP 
TITLE: Partner 
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. 
AREAS OF FOCUS: Construction, litigation, business, community association law, appellate law 


PAULA KOHUT

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Tax & Estate Planning (Also named to Super Lawyers-Estate Planning & Probate)
FIRM: Kohut, Adams & Randall PA
TITLE: Partner
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


GINT KRULIKAS

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Criminal (Also named to Super Lawyers-Criminal Defense: DUI/DWI)
FIRM: Minick Law
TITLE: Equity Partner 
EDUCATION: Appalachian State University; Charlotte School of Law (J.D.) 

JAMES LEA III

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Family Law (Also named to Super Lawyers-Family Law)
FIRM: The Lea/Schultz Law Firm
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill; Campbell University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Lea has been practicing law for more than 40 years. He specializes in domestic law and civil litigation. In 1996, he earned the Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent Peer Review Rating and has maintained the rating for the past 25 years. For over 15 years he has been listed in Super Lawyers and The Best Lawyers in America. His firm has been honored as one of The Best Law Firms in America.
AREA OF FOCUS: Family law


MICHAEL V. LEE

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-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. 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, 2009-21; North Carolina Super Lawyers 2009-22; and 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 and is currently serving in the N.C. Senate. Lee previously served on the N.C. Board of Transportation and N.C. State Ports Authority Board as its chairman.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Commercial real estate, land use and zoning


BRUCE MASON

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Criminal (Also named to Super Lawyers-Criminal Defense)
FIRM: Mason, Mason & Smith
EDUCATION: West Virginia University (B.S.); UNC-Chapel Hill (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Mason founded Mason, Mason & Smith in 1993 as a general trial practice specializing in criminal defense with a concentration in personal injury representation. The N.C. State Bar recognizes him as a board-certified specialist in state criminal law. He maintains an “excellent” rating by the national lawyer rating service of Martindale Hubbell. Mason practices extensively in federal court and is a member of the C.J.A. Panel, made up of attorneys selected by the federal judiciary to represent clients in federal court by appointment.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Criminal defense, driving while impaired defense, traffic law and personal injury


J. DICKSON MCLEAN 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Business 
FIRM: Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed LLP 
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: Davidson College (B.A.); UNC-Chapel Hill (M.B.A and J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Dickson has practiced business law and has represented closely-held family businesses and other business interests in southeastern North Carolina for the past 30 years, and has assisted clients in business establishment, expansions, acquisitions and divestitures, as well as in disputes among business owners and between businesses. Dickson has also served in volunteer roles in economic development, including as former chair of Wilmington Business Development and the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Business, corporate and commercial real estate law
 

ANDREW MCVEY 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Employment (Also named to Super Lawyers-Employment & Labor) 
FIRM: Murchison, Taylor & Gibson PLLC 
TITLE: Member/partner
EDUCATION: Wake Forest University (B.A. and J.D.) 
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: “I have had the opportunity to practice with a stellar group of attorneys for 22 years. My biggest career highlight has to be landing here at Murchison Taylor.” 
AREAS OF FOCUS: Civil litigation, employment, business law, homeowners association representation, mediation 


PATRICK MINCEY 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Criminal (Also named to Super Lawyers-Criminal Defense: White Collar) 
FIRM: Cranfill Sumner LLP 
TITLE: Attorney 
EDUCATION: Davidson College (B.A.); Mercer University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Mincey has an international practice focused on white-collar litigation and government investigations, including representing whistleblowers under the False Claims Act, SEC Office of the Whistleblower and FinCEN Anti-Money Laundering Act. He represents corporations and individuals in their most challenging criminal, civil and regulatory cases – at jury and bench trials, and on appeal – before federal and state courts throughout the United States. He regularly advises executives and their boards on corporate governance during high-profile crises. 
AREAS OF FOCUS: White-collar criminal defense and government investigations 


WILLIAM “WILL” ODEN III 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Employment (Also named to 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 5th Judicial District Bar, and a 2019 recipient of the N.C. Bar Association’s Citizen Lawyer Award. Oden currently serves on both the N.C. Bar Association’s Board of Governors and the N.C. State Bar’s Disciplinary Hearing Commission.   
AREAS OF FOCUS: Employment law, employment discrimination and harassment, employment litigation, occupational safety and health and workers’ compensation 


KATHLEEN O’MALLEY  

CATEGORY: Bankruptcy (Also named to Super Lawyers-Rising Stars: Bankruptcy/Business)  
FIRM: Stevens Martin Vaughn & Tadych PLLC  
TITLE: Associate  
EDUCATION: St. John’s University (B.S.); Campbell University School of Law (J.D.)  
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: O’Malley focuses her practice on bankruptcy, bankruptcy litigation and appellate advocacy. She has represented clients in appeals in both the state and federal courts. O’Malley represents bankruptcy clients in Chapter 11 and Chapter 7 bankruptcies, related debtor/creditor litigation and appeals, and is a Subchapter V Trustee. She was selected as a North Carolina Rising Star by Super Lawyers in business bankruptcy 2020-24. She is on the board of the Carolinas chapter of the International Women’s Insolvency & Restructuring Confederation, and is a council member for the N.C. Bar Association Bankruptcy Section.  
AREAS OF FOCUS: Business bankruptcy, bankruptcy litigation and appeals
 

JAMES PRICE

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Bankruptcy
FIRM: Price & Williams
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); Campbell Law School (J.D.) 
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: 75-word max
AREAS OF FOCUS: Wills and estates, probate, bankruptcy, contracts and business formation


LEEANNE QUATTRUCCI

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Family Law
FIRM: 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 500 adoptions. She is the guardian ad litem attorney for New Hanover and Pender counties. Additionally, she 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


EMILY JONES QUEEN 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Criminal
FIRM: Burney & Jones 
TITLE: Partner 
EDUCATION: N.C. State (B.S.); Charlotte School of Law (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Queen notes a highlight as “being able to advocate for 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: Criminal defense, family law, juvenile law (delinquency/DSS), traffic in both business bankruptcy and consumer bankruptcy law


JOEL RHINE 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Litigation (Also named to Super Lawyers-Personal Injury General: Plaintiff)
FIRM: Rhine Law Firm 
TITLE: Founding partner 
EDUCATION: University of Tampa (B.A.); Wake Forest University (J.D.) 
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Over more than three decades in practice, Rhine has handled multimillion-dollar lawsuits involving catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, construction, products liability, trucking and commercial vehicles, mass torts and class actions, data breaches and institutional sexual abuse. Rhine has cases pending in North Carolina state and federal courts as well as federal courts throughout the U.S. He has been named to The 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 
 

JENNIFER RODEN 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Tax & Estate Planning (Also named to Super Lawyers-Elder Law)
FIRM: Craige & Fox PLLC 
TITLE: Managing partner
EDUCATION: University of Alabama (B.A.) University of Alabama School of Law (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Roden is a board-certified specialist in elder law by the N.C. State Bar Board of Legal Specialization and a certified elder law attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Estate planning, elder law, special needs planning, guardianships and Medicaid long-term care planning
 

JAMES RUTHERFORD

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Criminal (Also named to Super Lawyers-Criminal Defense)
FIRM: James Rutherford Attorney at Law
TITLE: Owner
EDUCATION: UNCW (B.S.); Michigan State University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Rutherford practices law in state and federal courts. 
AREA OF FOCUS: Certified specialist in criminal law
 

LINDA SAYED

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Family Law (Also named to Super Lawyers-Family Law)
FIRM: Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed LLP
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: UNCW (B.A. and M.Ed.); Campbell University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Sayed has been a partner at Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed LLP since 2005. She is certified by the N.C. State Bar as a family law specialist. She is former president of the 5th Judicial District Bar and former president of Coastal Women Attorneys. She currently serves on the UNCW Foundation Board.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Divorce, custody, child support, alimony, property division, separation agreements, premarital agreements
 

RYAN SCHULTZ

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Family Law
FIRM: The Lea/Schultz Law Firm
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: University of San Francisco; Thomas Jefferson School of Law (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Schultz has been selected by his peers as a “Rising Star” in U.S. News & World Report’s publication of Best Lawyers in America.
AREA OF FOCUS: Family Law
 

NICOLE SLAUGHTER 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Construction (Also named to Super Lawyers-Construction Litigation)
FIRM: Hamlet Law TITLE: Partner 
EDUCATION: University of Memphis (B.B.A.); University of Tennessee (J.D.)  
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Slaughter is licensed in North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. She serves on the board of directors of the N.C. Association of Defense Attorneys and is a founding member and serves on the board of directors of the N.C. Civil Collaborative Law Association. She is a member of the N.C. Bar Association, the New Hanover County Bar Association and the N.C. Association of Women Attorneys, Coastal Women Attorneys chapter. Slaughter has authored a number of articles on construction law matters and has served as a speaker at several continuing legal education programs concerning construction law and collaborative law. 
AREAS OF FOCUS: Commercial litigation, construction law, collaborative law, product liability, insurance defense and other complex litigation 
 

JOHN SLOAN

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Tax & Estate Planning 
FIRM: Ward and Smith P.A. 
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); UNC School of Law (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: n a N.C. State Bar-board certified specialist in estate planning and probate law. He leads the firm’s Trusts and Estates practice section. Sloan’s 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 businesses.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Business succession, closely held companies, asset protection planning, gift planning, estate tax reduction planning, estate planning, wills and trusts, estate administration and trusts and estates litigation
 

WILLIAM GRAY SMITH

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Criminal (Also named to Super Lawyers-Rising Stars: Criminal Defense)
FIRM: Mason, Mason & Smith
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: Randolph-Macon College; Campbell University School of Law
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Since joining Mason & Mason in 2017, Smith has advocated for his clients both in and out of state and federal courtrooms. In addition to all criminal matters, he provides representation in administrative hearings, school disciplinary hearings, restraining orders, firearm restorations and expunctions. 
AREA OF FOCUS: Criminal defense
 

JAMES SNOW III

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Business Law
FIRM: Hogue Hill LLP
TITLE: Managing Partner (in process of retirement)
EDUCATION: University of Pennsylvania (B.A.); UNC-Chapel Hill (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Snow served as a member of the New Hanover County Bar Association’s executive committee 1990-94 and in several roles with the N.C. Bar Association (Business Law and Real Property Law sections member; past service on Business Law Section Council; and past Business Law Section Council membership committee chairman) and N.C. State Bar (past 5th Judicial District Secretary-Treasurer); past 5th Judicial District Young Lawyers Division chairman). He has served as a member of Legal Services of the Lower Cape Fear Inc. board of directors, including offices of treasurer and president, and has served on the boards of Historic Wilmington Foundation Inc. and Cape Fear Literacy Council.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Business law, commercial law, formations of corporations and LLCs, purchases and sales of businesses, business transactions, mergers and acquisitions, employment agreements, independent contract services agreements, contracts, commercial and residential real estate, real estate development, real estate purchases and sales, refinancing, contracts and leasing
 

BLAKE SPALE

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Criminal
FIRM: Shotwell Law
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: University of Colorado-Boulder (B.S.); New England School of Law (J.D.)
 

HELEN TAROKIC

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Immigration (Also named to Super Lawyers-Immigration)
FIRM: Helen Tarokic Law PLLC
TITLE: Attorney, manager 
EDUCATION: Lake Forest College (B.A.); Wake Forest University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Tarokic is a North Carolina board-certified immigration law specialist in Wilmington. She was awarded the AILA National Sam Williamson mentorship award in San Francisco in June 2018 and co-authored the book “Ignite Your Practice with the T Visa,” which became a bestseller on Amazon for its category. She handles all types of immigration cases, ranging from investor and business cases to humanitarian and human trafficking cases. She is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. 
AREAS OF FOCUS: North Carolina board-certified immigration law specialist; fluent in Spanish, English and Croatian
 

BENTON TOUPS 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Employment
FIRM: Cranfill Sumner 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.” 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. 
AREA OF FOCUS: Employment law
 

W. BERRY TRICE

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Business
FIRM: Murchison, Taylor & Gibson PLLC
TITLE: Member/partner
EDUCATION: N.C. State University (B.A.); Campbell University (J.D.) 
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Berry is a North Carolina-certified public accountant. He was the initial president of The Jo Ann Carter Harrelson Center Inc. and served on its board of directors for many years. He also served as president of the Cape Fear Rotary Club and has served as a deacon at First Baptist Church of Wilmington Inc. and is a past president of the finance committee and board of trustees for the church.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Mergers and acquisitions, trusts and estates, corporate law and business and tax planning 
 

ANDREA "ANDI" MATT VAN TRIGT

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Real Estate 
FIRM: Murchison, Taylor & Gibson PLLC
TITLE: Member/partner
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); Campbell University (J.D.)
AREAS OF FOCUS: Real estate and development
 

THOMAS VARNUM 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Intellectual
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 serves as a director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern North Carolina. 
AREAS OF FOCUS: Intellectual property, entertainment law (film and TV), civil litigation, alcoholic beverage law and general business counseling 
 

BRETT WENTZ

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Criminal
FIRM: Wentz Law
TITLE: Founder
EDUCATION: East Carolina University (B.A.); Campbell University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Wentz is the founder of his law firm. “I started doing this to help people, and having the ability to do that on my own is one of the highlights,” he said.
AREA OF FOCUS: Criminal defense-state and federal
 

EDWIN WEST III 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Criminal
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.
AREAS OF FOCUS: White-collar criminal defense, crisis management, complex business and corporate litigation, professional liability litigation
 

D. ROBERT WILLIAMS JR. 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Real Estate
FIRM: Price & Williams P.A.
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); N.C. Central University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Williams has extensive experience in real estate law, having represented clients in thousands of residential and commercial transactions. His clients have included first-time homebuyers, small businesses, builders and developers. In addition, Williams regularly acts as an adviser and counselor to homeowners associations regarding assessments and other matters.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Real estate, estate planning and administration
 

JEREMY WILSON

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Litigation (Also named to Super Lawyers-Personal Injury General: Plaintiff) 
FIRM: Ward and Smith P.A. 
TITLE: Attorney 
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A. and J.D.); Duke University (M.P.P.) 
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Wilson leads Ward and Smith’s Personal Injury and Wrongful Death practice. He has extensive experience litigating plaintiffs’ claims for wrongful death, serious personal injury, and a broad range of civil litigation before state and federal courts. He also has litigated numerous cases involving complex insurance coverage issues, as well as business disputes. In addition, he currently is heavily involved in the ongoing Camp Lejeune water contamination claims.   
AREAS OF FOCUS: Civil litigation, plaintiffs’ personal injury, medical malpractice, premises liability, insurance coverage and litigation, business, commercial and contract litigation
 

ELLEN WORTMAN

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Litigation
FIRM: The Wortman Law Firm PLLC
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: University of Tennessee (B.A.); Wake Forest University School of Law (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Selected for Community Association Institute (CAI-NC) Attorney Roundtable; regularly presents on community association topics; successfully tried jury cases across North Carolina; successfully argued at the Court of Appeals of North Carolina; elected to Board of Directors for Lawyer’s Mutual Insurance Company, where she chairs the governance committee; previously elected to the N.C. Bar Association’s Insurance Law Council; named Super Lawyer and Legal Elite by peers on multiple occasions
AREA OF FOCUS: general counsel to community associations, civil litigation
 

MELISSA WRIGHT 

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Family Law 
FIRM: Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed LLP 
TITLE: Attorney        
EDUCATION: Pfeiffer University (B.A.); Cumberland School of Law of Samford University (J.D.) 
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Wright is an experienced family law litigator, certified family financial mediator, collaborative family law attorney and parenting coordinator. She practiced family law for 12 years in Mecklenburg County before moving to Wilmington in 2015. Wright litigates primarily in New Hanover and Brunswick counties. She is frequently appointed as a parenting coordinator to assist parents with complying with court orders and to communicate and cooperate more effectively about their children. 
AREAS OF FOCUS: Custody and child support, alimony and equitable distribution, premarital and separation agreements, adoptions, family law mediation, parenting coordination, collaborative divorce 
HALL OF FAME
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);
  • G. STEPHEN DIAB, Murchison, Taylor & Gibson PLLC (Business/2021)
  • 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);
  • CHRISTOPHER L. ORING, Oring Law Firm PLLC (Criminal/2021)
To see who was named to Thomson Reuters’ Super Lawyers list this year, click here.
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