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Largest Law Firms 2012

A note from the editor


The making of lists is an irresistible human urge, so much so that it would surprise almost nobody to learn that the cave drawings left by early man were, in fact, rankings of the Top Ten Mastodons We Killed and Ate. Our list of North Carolina’s Largest Law Firms can’t match those cave drawings for mystery, but then again obscurity isn’t our aim. Clarity is, and it doesn’t get much more simple and clear than a ranking based on a single statistic: The number of lawyers a firm has in the state.

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McGuireWoods: Making a merger work (access required)

Charlotte in 2008 probably wasn’t the ideal spot for a law firm merger. Granted, the city had some boom years just before, and few could anticipate at the time how far south the economy was headed. But in hindsight, it was a questionable call. Don’t tell that to attorneys at McGuireWoods, who just celebrated the four-year anniversary of the firm’s merger with the old-line Carolina firm Helms Mullis.

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Smith Anderson: A century old, and in for the long haul (access required)

When the recession hit, Raleigh’s Smith Anderson took a look at its people and its clients, and decided to invest. “We were taking really good care of our clients, because everybody was having a hard time,” said Carl Patterson, the firm’s managing partner. “It was a time when you had to be a true partner with your clients, and work through tough times. Sometimes that means you put aside short term profits for long term investments in relationships.”

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Cranfill, Sumner & HARTZOG: Happy at home (access required)

When Cranfill, Sumner & Hartzog opened its doors in 1992, it was home to 27 attorneys. That number has steadily climbed to now over 100. “We’ve certainly appreciated what the growth has been, but we didn’t start out trying to be a big firm,” said managing partner Dan Hartzog.

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Brooks Pierce: Zen and the art of law firm management

Ask Ed Winslow, managing partner of Brooks Pierce McLendon Humphrey & Leonard, why his firm keeps growing and you won’t hear about amazing attorney billables, record-breaking verdicts, or state-of the-art technology (although the firm may have all of that). Instead, he’ll tell you about how his people work in a “shared leadership” system and are learning how to better manage through programs at Greensboro’s Center for Creative Leadership; how the firm rejects an organizational hierarchy in favor of collaboration across departments; and how his attorneys strive to be the most creative, innovative problem-solvers in the state.

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Legal Aid of NC: Helping with basic needs (access required)

Last year, with 162 lawyers, Legal Aid of North Carolina would have ranked No. 5 in the state, ahead of K&L Gates. In 2011, that number dropped to 157 attorneys – still enough to keep the organization in the top ten (at No. 6), but that 3.1 percent drop in attorney numbers doesn’t reflect the full impact the recession has had on the state’s largest provider of free legal services to low income residents.

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