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.

Here are the local attorneys who made the 2022 list:

 

ABBY ADAMS


CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Tax & Estate Planning

FIRM: Kohut, Adams & Randall P.A. TITLE: Shareholder
EDUCATION: Ferris State University (B.A.); University of Detroit Mercy (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Adams has practiced in Wilmington since 2011 and is a member of the N.C. Bar Association Estate Planning and Fiduciary Law and Elder and Special Needs Law sections. She has served on the boards of the New Hanover County Estate Planning Council and Coastal Women Attorneys.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Estate planning, trust and estate administration, guardianships, elder law and special needs planning
 

JAMES ALLARD JR.


CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Criminal FIRM: Hewlett, Collins & Allard LLP
EDUCATION: UNCW (B.A.); Campbell University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Allard is AV Rated by Martindale-Hubbell and been named to the Top 100 Trial Lawyers, National Trial Lawyers. He is a member of the Fifth Judicial District (Member, Grievance Committee, 1990-92) and N.C. State Bar; N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyers; and The Association of Trial Lawyers of America.
 

THOMAS BABEL

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Construction

FIRM: Davis Hartman & Wright LLP
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: Ohio State University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Babel has pretrial, trial and appellate experience in trademark, trade secret, patent, real estate, products liability, construction, business torts and contract matters. He also counsels clients on drafting and negotiating commercial transactions. Babel has been rated by his peers as being “preeminent” in his fields of law. He has White Belt and Yellow Belt certifications in Legal Lean Sigma and Project Management from the Legal Lean Sigma Institute.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Business, civil and commercial litigation; contract liability and litigation; construction litigation; intellectual property litigation; products liability; real estate litigation
 

CHRISTOPHER K. BEHM

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

FIRM: Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed LLP
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 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
 

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 connection with financial workouts, debt restructurings and bankruptcy reorganizations and liquidations. 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 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 bankruptcy and consumer bankruptcy law.
 

JAMES OLIVER CARTER

CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Bankruptcy

FIRM: Carter & Carter
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: Wake Forest University (B.A. and J.D.)

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Practicing in Wilmington for the past 48 years, Carter has been listed in Business North Carolina magazine’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
 

NATHANIEL COOK

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Young Guns

FIRM: Block, Crouch, Keeter, Behm & Sayed LLP
TITLE: Associate
EDUCATION: Appalachian State University (B.S.); Elon University School of Law (J.D.)

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Cook was born in Rochester, New York, but has called Wilmington home since his family relocated in 2001. Prior to attending law school, Cook obtained a paralegal technology certificate at Cape Fear Community College. He previously practiced with Price & Williams P.A. in Wilmington.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Commercial and residential real estate (acquisition and development), business law, estate planning and estate administration
 

RICHARD P. COOK

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Bankruptcy (Also named to Super Lawyers-Rising Stars: Bankruptcy/Consumer)
FIRM: Cape Fear Debt Relief
TITLE: Owner and managing attorney
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (undergraduate and J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Cook is one of only a few attorneys in Wilmington recognized by the N.C. State Bar as a board-certified specialist in business and consumer bankruptcy law. He founded Cape Fear Debt Relief in 2011 as a boutique bankruptcy law firm that represents both debtors and creditors in Chapter 7, 11 and 13 cases.
AREA OF FOCUS: Bankruptcy 
 

ALEX C. DALE

CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Appellate
FIRM: Ward and Smith PA
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. Dale is one of the few attorneys statewide recognized as a N.C. State Bar board-certified specialist in Appellate Practice.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Appellate practice, corporate governance, business and commercial litigation, and public body representation
 

CHRIS S. EDWARDS

CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Young Guns
FIRM: Ward and Smith PA
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: Wake Forest University (B.A.); Wake Forest University School of Law (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Edwards is an appellate attorney and civil litigator whose practice focuses on complex legal issues related to business, intellectual property and appellate matters. He handles all aspects of commercial disputes involving contracts, noncompete clauses, trademarks, copyrights and patents. Edwards devotes a substantial portion of his practice to critical motions and appeals.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Appellate, commercial litigation, derivatives litigation, e-discovery, intellectual property litigation, litigation, local counsel, N.C. Business Court
 

CHRISTINE FARRELL

CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Family Law
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 22 years in matters regarding criminal law, family law, housing and representation of children. For the past 14 years, Farrell has focused on family law including issues of custody, child support, alimony and asset division. Farrell is also often appointed as a guardian ad litem for children who have parents that are involved in disputed custody proceedings in New Hanover and surrounding counties.
AREA OF FOCUS: Family law
 

KURT B. FRYAR

CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Real Estate
FIRM: Kurt B. Fryar, Attorney at Law
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: UNCW (B.S., M.S.); UNC-Chapel Hill (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: For the past 20 years, Fryar has represented buyers and sellers in residential and commercial real estate transactions. He has also represented property owners in land disputes against governmental entities. Fryar is a member of the N.C. Bar, the N.C. Bar Association and the New Hanover County Bar.
 

KARA O. 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: “Receiving bear hugs from families whose lives are significantly impacted by dementia and long-term care costs.”
AREAS OF FOCUS: 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. 
 

DEEDEE R. 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: “I had the opportunity to practice law with my dad for about six years. I am so thankful for the experience to learn from him and to spend that time with him. A close second would be the late Judge Ola Lewis remarking that I was a ‘gladiator in heels’ following my argument at a hearing. It was such an incredible compliment coming from a judge whom I really respected and admired.”
AREAS OF FOCUS: Gasch is the chair of Cranfill Sumner’s Retail, Restaurant and Hospitality Practice Group. She is also actively involved in the defense of claims involving medical malpractice, automobile liability, trucking accidents and products liability.
 

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 11 years of experience assisting individuals obtain and maintain lawful immigration status, petition relatives, naturalize and defend 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 serves 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 also named to the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce/StarNews’ 40 Under 40 list in 2021.
AREA OF FOCUS: Immigration law  
 

H. 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
 

JESSICA SOLES HUMPHRIES

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Construction (Also named to Super Lawyers-Rising Stars: Civil Litigation/ Defense)
FIRM: Hamlet Law
TITLE: Partner
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill; Campbell University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Humphries has more than eight 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 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 
 

JUSTIN HUMPHRIES

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.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Civil litigation and real estate  
 

PAIGE INMAN

CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Family (Also named to Super Lawyers-Rising Stars: Family Law)
FIRM: Ward and Smith P.A.
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); Campbell University (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Inman practices family law from the firm’s Wilmington office. She helps 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
 

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: 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 boardcertified 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
 

JEFFREY P. 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 A. KNUDSON

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

ANDREW MCVEY


CATEGORY: Legal Elite- 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: “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- Rising Stars: 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” A. 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.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Employment law, employment litigation, occupational safety and health and workers’ compensation
 

EMILY JONES QUEEN

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Young Guns (Also named to Super Lawyers-Rising Star: Criminal Defense)

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 
 

JOEL R. RHINE

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Construction and Litigation (Also named to Super Lawyers Top 100 list and 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 breach 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.” In 2021 he was one of 28 attorneys in North Carolina named to the elite Lawyers Weekly Personal Injury Power List.
AREA OF FOCUS: Complex civil litigation
 

JAMES F. RUTHERFORD

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Criminal
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 B. 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 
 

JOHN R. SLOAN


CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Tax & Estate Planning
FIRM: Ward and Smith PA
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); UNC School of Law (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Sloan is a N.C. Board Certified Specialist in Estate Planning and Probate Law. He chairs the firm’s Trusts and Estates practice. 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
 

JAMES B. SNOW III

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Business Law
FIRM: Hogue Hill LLP
TITLE: Managing partner
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. 
 

FAISON G. SUTTON

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 
 

COLIN TARRANT

CATEGORY: Legal Elite- 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 
 

RYAL TAYLOE

CATEGORY: Legal Elite- Construction
FIRM: Ward and Smith P.A.
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: UNC-Chapel Hill (B.A.); Wake Forest School of Law (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Tayloe is an experienced litigator. He has handled a wide range of litigation cases in state and federal courts, many of them jury trials. Tayloe has extensive construction law experience, including lien law, federal and state bond claims, and defective workmanship cases. He also has significant experience with agribusiness litigation, property owner association disputes, personal injury and all types of real estate disputes.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Contract litigation; eminent domain/condemnation; construction litigation; real estate litigation; personal injury litigation 
 

MATTHEW W. THOMPSON


CATEGORY: Legal Elite: Tax & Estate Planning
FIRM: Ward and Smith PA
TITLE: Attorney

EDUCATION: University of Delaware (B.A.); College of William & Mary Law School (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Thompson is a N.C. board-certified specialist in Estate Planning and Probate Law. He has significant experience advising and counseling the firm’s clients on estate planning, business succession, asset protection, charitable planning and fiduciary matters.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Agribusiness, alcoholic beverage law, business succession, elder law, estate administration, estate planning, health care, trusts and estates, trusts and estates litigation
 

ALLEN N. TRASK III

CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Litigation (Also named to Super Lawyers-Rising Star: Business Litigation)
FIRM: Ward and Smith PA
TITLE: Attorney
EDUCATION: East Carolina University (B.S.); Campbell Law School (J.D.)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Trask focuses his practice on representing those who own, develop, manage and work the land. He works with clients on a broad range of matters, including litigation and dispute resolution, general legal advice and regulatory matters. He leads the firm’s Agribusiness Practice Group, and he co-leads its Hemp Law and Community Associations Practice Groups. Allen also serves as the co-Geographic Team Leader for the firm’s Wilmington office.
AREAS OF FOCUS: Business, civil and commercial litigation; real estate and developer litigation; community associations disputes; zoning and land use; agribusiness
 

BENTON L. TOUPS


CATEGORY: Legal Elite-Employment and Litigation (Also named to Super Lawyers- Employment & Labor)
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.”
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. 
 

THOMAS VARNUM

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

EDWIN WEST III

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
 

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

Being named to the Legal Elite Hall of Fame means these attorneys 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.