Reputation and recognition are important aspects of the legal profession, permeating through the activities of law students and attorneys on a daily basis. As Campbell Law students, we are all acutely aware of reputation as we compete with the likes of Duke and North Carolina law students. We are both proud of the esteem that Campbell graduates are held within the state but also cognizant of law school rankings and terms like “regional law school.” Luckily, we have the opportunity to thank the successful Campbell alumni practicing in the state that continue to pave the way for our future success and give us confidence in the value of our law degree.
Jason James and Josh Durham of Poyner Spruill’s Charlotte office are two such trailblazing Campbell Law Alumni. Mr. James, a 2001 Campbell Law graduate, is a 2012 recipient of the Charlotte Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Award. Mr. Durham, a 1998 Campbell Law graduate, is a 2010 recipient of the same award. The 40 Under 40 Awards recognize 40 attorneys in major legal markets throughout the country under the age of 40 who are leaders in their field and making positive contributions to the communities in which they live. The Charlotte Business Journal describes the recipients of the 19th annual 40 Under 40 Award as attorneys in the Charlotte area who are “making major strides in their careers and having a positive impact on their communities.”
Both Mr. James and Mr. Durham focus their practice on commercial litigation, but they arrived at Poyner Spruill through different avenues. Mr. Durham clerked with the firm and received an offer beginning his career with Poyner Spruill after law school. Mr. James began his career at Baucom, Claytor, Benton, Morgan & Wood. After facing off against Mr. Durham in various cases, he was offered an opportunity to join Poyner Spruill after a few years in practice. Though their paths differed, both men are representing Campbell and Campbell students in ways that they, and we, should be proud. The recognition as 40 Under 40 recipients demonstrates their diligence, skill, and ability to successfully connect with both clients and their fellow attorneys.
Mr. James and Mr. Durham attribute a good portion of their success to the education and experience they received while law students at Campbell. Mr. James notes that upon entering the legal field, “Campbell lawyers are practical rather than simply theoretical.” He credits Campbell’s founding Dean, F. Leary Davis, Jr., for instilling in the students the importance of growing your practice and building and maintaining a good reputation within the legal community. Mr. Durham echoes this sentiment, pointing out that the faculty at Campbell stress the importance of ethics from the moment students begin law school. In his experience, “Campbell graduates play by the rules of what you would expect in the profession.” Both men agree that Campbell graduates are ready to hit the ground running and enter the legal profession prepared with the training and skills necessary to practice law.
The road to recognition was not necessarily an easy one for Mr. James and Mr. Durham. Both men note that when they began their careers in Charlotte, there were far fewer Campbell attorneys in the area and they found they had to overcome certain stigmas to break into the market. However, through the work of attorneys like them and other Campbell graduates, Campbell’s reputation has improved steadily in Charlotte. Campbell attorneys now enjoy a strong foothold throughout the state as well as a reputation that is growing outside the state. Mr. Durham recalls that he used the competition between Campbell and the other North Carolina law schools as motivation in his budding career. He notes that he used the absence of a strong Campbell contingent in Charlotte as a “chip on [his] shoulder and a pride thing to break into the Charlotte market.” It is clear that both he and Mr. James have succeeded in doing so as demonstrated by their recent recognition.
When asked of their recommendations for current Campbell students, both men stressed the importance of getting involved in the legal and local community as soon as possible. They also emphasized the importance of getting experience early on, as your legal career will not be measured by your first few years in practice but rather by the full body of work over your career. Mr. Durham stressed the importance of “building contacts and connections and meeting as many people in as many different areas of the practice as you can.” Mr. James recommends getting active in your local bar association and reaching out to established attorneys in your field. Both men encouraged students to contact established Campbell attorneys, because in their experience, alumni are more than willing to help fresh-faced Campbell attorneys.
The sentiments expressed by Mr. James and Mr. Durham are reassuring to those of us graduating in 2012,preparing to take the bar exam as well as to current and future Campbell Law students. Though we face a difficult legal market, we are lucky to have predecessors like James and Durham establishing a sterling reputation for a Campbell attorney. We, as lawyers in training, should embrace the high bar that our successful alumni have set and rise to the challenge. We should also extend gratitude to successful Campbell graduates like Mr. James and Mr. Durham. Although a large part of achieving a rewarding legal career is self-driven hard work, it is helpful having established attorneys promoting Campbell Law’s stellar reputation through community involvement and recognition within the profession. I hope for continued success and recognition for Mr. James, Mr. Durham, and Campbell graduates throughout the country. I am confident that success breeds further success and as a 3L, I look forward to being able to count myself as a proud Campbell graduate.
Joe is a third-year student and a former associate editor for the Campbell Law Observer. Joe can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.