March 07, 2013Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP partner and Guilford County Board of Education Chairman Alan Duncan, and three other Smith Moore Leatherwood attorneys, will leave the firm on Thursday, March 7, to start their own firm, which will be named Van Laningham Duncan PLLC.
The first name in the new partnership is that of Smith Moore Leatherwood partner Allison Overbay Van Laningham, who, along with Duncan, was part of the team that represented Democratic presidential candidate and former US Sen. John Edwards from North Carolina on six charges of violating federal campaign finance laws.
That case resulted in Edwards being found not guilt on one charge – that of accepting $375,000 in illegal campaign contributions from heiress Bunny Mellon in 2008, and the jury deadlocking on the five other charges.
Duncan and Van Laningham are considered two of the top trial lawyers in North Carolina.
The new firm, which will also include current Smith Moore Leatherwood attorneys Stephen Russell Jr. and L. Cooper Harrell, will have offices at 300 N. Greene St., in the same building as the Greensboro office of Smith Moore Leatherwood.
Van Laningham Duncan has been described as a "boutique litigation" firm that will take high-profile lawsuits that Duncan and Van Laningham find attractive.
"That's what we're going to do is litigation, yes," Duncan said. "Significant litigation. Just what we've done in the past."
According to sources in the local legal community, there have been increasing conflicts between Duncan and Van Laningham and Smith Moore Leatherwood over the type of cases to take.
Also, the City of Greensboro is one of Duncan's major clients, and that work, along with Duncan's position as school board chairman, obviously caused potential conflicts of interest with the work of the other 180 or so attorneys at Smith Moore Leatherwood.
Nonetheless, Duncan, who has been at Smith Moore Leatherwood for 34 years, described the split with his partners there as "incredibly amicable."
"I have so many friends here," Duncan said. "It has been a painful decision brought about by circumstances that everyone has worked about in a highly professional manner. We are, and continue to be, close professional colleagues and are, and will continue to be, closely associated with one another. Although we are all saddened by this departure, we will continue to work with each other in the most professional of ways."
Duncan is a member of the North Carolina Bar, the US District Court bars for all three North Carolina regions, and the bars of the courts of appeals for the US Fourth, Ninth and DC circuits and the US Supreme Court.
Duncan said that Smith Moore Leatherwood will continue to do well, as he hopes his new firm will.
"This law firm is a great law firm," he said. "It is today and it will be tomorrow. And we believe we will be able to help people in litigation matters in a valuable way."