To my astonishment, 2018 marks my 50th year as a licensed attorney. In October the North Carolina State Bar invited me and each of my fellow 50-year lawyers to submit a brief essay reflecting on our careers. Here's mine.
I didn’t go to law school out of a life-long desire to be a lawyer; in fact, my ambition was to be a print or television journalist. I went because a lot of my friends were going, because I won a scholarship, and because my Alamance County draft board had me square in its sights. I reasoned — wrongly, as it turned out — that during my three years in law school the Vietnam War might somehow be brought to a merciful end.
Passing the bar in 1968 allowed me to accept a commission as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps. I served four years on active duty, during which I met my wife and learned way more about actually being a trial lawyer than I ever learned in law school, including the fact that I liked it and wasn’t bad at it.
I came to Raleigh early in 1973 and joined the firm of Sanford, Cannon, Adams and McCullough. Around 1977, through a great stroke of luck, I had the honor of succeeding the late William C. Lassiter as counsel to the North Carolina Press Association, which allowed me to combine my passion for journalism with my skill and training as a lawyer. I’ve represented journalists ever since and, with the help of thoughtful and conscientious judges who cared about the First Amendment, even helped make some pretty good case law along the way.
My law practice has been made fun and intellectually stimulating not only by the cases I’ve handled and the clients I have represented, but also by the great people I’ve met on my journey. Over the years I’ve been blessed to work alongside many dedicated and talented colleagues such as Bob Spearman and Al Adams, both of whom sadly are now departed, and my current partners at Stevens, Martin, Vaughn & Tadych. I’ve had the good fortune to appear before a wide array of great trial court judges like James H. Pou Bailey, Robert Hobgood, Earl Britt, Don Stephens and my undergraduate and law school classmate, Howdy Manning. I’ve particularly loved appellate practice and my many opportunities to argue in the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and in the Fourth Circuit. And I’ve had the great honor to be a member of the Wake County Bar, where civility, integrity and professionalism are endemic.
My law practice has been enriched by the opportunity to teach law and journalism classes at UNC and, for 18 years, leading a “Free Press & Public Policy” seminar at the Duke University school named for my hero and mentor, Terry Sanford. Students keep you honest and on your toes.
Most importantly, my entire life during the past 50 years has been elevated and enlivened by the unwavering love and support of my wife Marilyn, whose own career as an advocate for abused and neglected children made North Carolina a better place. No lawyer ever had a better companion for the road.