One-Member Wonders: NCBA Attorneys In Far-Flung Counties Are Never Alone

By Russell Rawlings

Our monthly reports at the N.C. Bar Center provide a wealth of information about the members of the North Carolina Bar Association. We can see how many lawyers, law students, paralegals and paralegal students comprise our membership, as well as how many members are participating in each of our sections and divisions.

The reports also reveal how many members hail from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. There are thousands in Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Wake counties, and more than a hundred members in each of 13 additional counties.

Another important number also stood out in a recent membership report for Gates, Graham and Tyrrell counties: one. That’s right – in each of those counties, we had one member, each of whom has a story to tell about their lives, their careers, and their reasons for being members of the North Carolina Bar Association.

Please allow me to introduce them.

Mack Tallant

Graham County is about as far west as one can go and still be in North Carolina. Parts of the county are farther west than Knoxville, Tenn. The only county in the state that is further west is Cherokee County, where Mack Tallant grew up and graduated from Andrews High School.

“I worked in Atlanta for a few years before law school,” Tallant said, “and I wanted to come back to a small town to practice law, but not necessarily the town I grew up in.”
Tallant earned his bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University in 1989 and graduated from the Georgia State College of Law in 1995.

“Zeyland McKinney was practicing here in Robbinsville, and I practiced with him until 2014,” Tallant said. “I have been solo ever since. I have focused primarily on real estate and have done a little litigation involving real estate, wills, incorporation and LLCs.

“I also help the clerk’s office with all of their Guardian ad Litem competency cases. I have handled an estate here and there, and until recently I always represented one or more of the local towns, but I got out of that after 20 years.”

Tallant’s wife commutes to Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, where she directs the honors college and serves as associate dean. They have a son in elementary school and enjoy everything that living in a small town has to offer.

“Everybody has been so good to me,” Tallant said, “I see no reason to go anywhere else. I can’t say that any one particular event led me to become a lawyer; I just always thought it was something that I wanted to do.

“I like the idea of helping people and being able to do a service to the clients and the community. That appealed to me, and I think that is why I gravitated toward real estate in the end, because it typically accomplishes something for both sides and everyone goes home happy.”

Tallant is a prime example, if not the perfect example, of how a lawyer in a small, remote area benefits from membership in the NCBA.

“The Bar Association is a great resource,” Tallant said, “especially the Real Property Section. The section has been a great resource for CLEs and for the online forms. I don’t really see how any attorney can practice and not be a Bar Association member for all of the resources that are offered. It has been a real asset, especially for a small practice.”

Tallant is a regular at the Real Property Section’s Annual Meeting.

“I like to make it a family trip when I can,” Tallant said, “especially when it is at the beach, or when it comes to Asheville every third year, that is handy.”

Tallant emphasized that while he is the only NCBA member in the county, he is not isolated.

“I could not ask for a better bunch of colleagues,” Tallant concluded. “If I need advice or need help with something, I can pick the brains of a dozen different attorneys in the area and they don’t hesitate to talk with me.

“It’s as if we were down the hall, which I imagine goes on in large firms, but I just pick up the phone instead of sticking my head in the door.”

Windy Rose

For many North Carolinians, Tyrrell County is either the “jumping off point” on their way to the Outer Banks or the first sign of civilization on their way home.

For Windy Rose, it’s simply home. She grew up there and graduated from Columbia High School, where she was the salutatorian in a class of approximately 30.

“I liked growing up in a small town,” Rose said. “There is a strong sense of pride in this community, and everyone here is proud of me for becoming a lawyer.

Rose attended East Carolina University, graduating in 1995 with a degree in Mathematics, and taught school in Washington and Martin counties for a total of three years.
Weary of working two jobs to generate a decent income, the former Windy Hassell decided to go to law school. She is a member of Campbell Law School’s Class of 2001, which means she received all of her legal education at the law school’s original Buies Creek campus.

“It felt very similar to going to high school in Columbia,” Rose said. “We had a small class of 100 and our lives revolved around school. There was this wonderful camaraderie among my classmates and I made many friends whom I have stayed in contact with and referred business to, and they do the same.

“That was the first time I heard about the North Carolina Bar Association. We had spokespeople come to the law school, and I joined the Law Student Division.”

If her story followed a predictable pattern, it would have Rose returning home to Columbia and hanging out a shingle, which ultimately happened. Just not right away.

“I swore I was never going to practice law in that ‘backward place,’ ” Rose says, hoping not to offend anyone in a community that she has come to know and love all over again. “I started out practicing on the Outer Banks for about a year and a half, and then I had my first daughter.

“There really was no suitable childcare option for me out there, but my mother said she would keep her if I worked here. So I commuted back to Columbia from about 2004 until 2008.”

It was at that time, after the birth of a second daughter and her divorce, when Rose moved home for good. She operates her law practice in the building that her great grandfather, Percy Davenport, lived in.

“It is a remodeled old house that was built in the 1800s,” Rose said. “It is on the historic registry, and sits directly across from the courthouse. Location, location, location!”

Rose is excited that her niece, Brooke Johnson, a 2016 Wake Forest University School of Law graduate, has joined her firm. The former solo practice is now known as Rose & Johnson, and with Johnson joining the NCBA, Tyrell County will no longer rank among the single-member counties.

“Brooke grew up in Greenville and we have always had a close relationship,” Rose said. “After she finished law school and took the bar exam, she came to practice here. We have a general practice and do everything except criminal law.”

When Rose isn’t occupied with her law practice, she’s busy keeping up with her daughters, who are now 13 and 15 years of age. She has also given freely of her time as a youth leader, treasurer and trustee at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, and serves as president of the 2nd Judicial District Bar.

Rose quickly points to the NCBA’s CLE Department as the leading benefit of her membership.

“You know it is going to be a quality CLE if it is sponsored by the Bar Association,” Rose said. “As a single mom, I probably take half of them online. I enjoy taking classes when I get a chance to go. I wish there were more available in our area, but I know you have to go where the demand is.”

Philip Godwin Jr.

Gates County is a long way from the N.C. Bar Center, but connections between its legal community and the North Carolina Bar Association are almost as old as the NCBA itself.
The relationship began in 1900 when A.P. Godwin Sr. graduated from law school at Wake Forest College and established the family firm, which remains in operation to this day, in downtown Gatesville. His oldest son, A. Pilston Godwin Jr., joined the firm in 1952 and served as president of the NCBA in 1965-66. The executive conference room in the present-day Bar Center is named in his honor.

Pilston’s brother, Philip P. Godwin Sr., joined the firm in 1956 and welcomed his son, Philip P. Godwin Jr., into the firm in 1980. They practiced together until Godwin Sr. died in 2001, after which Godwin Jr. maintained a solo practice until 2014 when Thomas B.P. Wood joined the firm to form Godwin and Wood, PLLC.

None of this family history would come so easily were it not for the local knowledge and storytelling ability of Philip Godwin Jr., who earned his bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University and graduated from North Carolina Central University School of Law in 1980.

“I’ve spent almost my whole life here,” Godwin said. “My daddy was in law school at Old Wake Forest and I was born at Rex Hospital, but we moved back here after Daddy graduated from law school. I’ve lived here since I was six except for going off to college, and I worked for a year at Piedmont Airlines after I graduated from Wake Forest.

“My dad always said there were two ways to make a living in this world – with your hands or with your head. I didn’t understand that until working a year with my hands at Piedmont. He never put any pressure on me to go to law school, but I was fortunate that we practiced together for 19 years.
“It was always interesting and certainly fun to practice with him. I remember the last jury trial he had; we worked on it together. He was so well-respected here in the community, I think he had those jurors in his pocket. He had a certain charisma.”

Living and working in Gates County, he said, is like having the best of both worlds.

“It’s a rural life,” Godwin said, “but at the same time I can be on an airplane in an hour flying anywhere in the world from Norfolk International. And thank goodness for the First Judicial District Bar. It is a very good, congenial bar.

“I’m there every year when they call the roster. I have not missed the local bar meeting in 38 years. Normally they have it at Kill Devil Hills or Nags Head, but when I was president in ’86 we had it here in Gates County. I understand that my grandfather had the only other meeting in Gates County, and they had a fish fry out at Merchants Mill Pond.”

Godwin has grown to admire many of his district bar colleagues, including Gerald White of Elizabeth City, who died recently.

“He was so good to young lawyers,” Godwin said. “He was a great mentor, and always had time to talk to you. I try to do that too, because I know how I was treated. Daddy taught me that if you see a lawyer and you don’t know him, go up and introduce yourself to him.

“So many times I see younger lawyers staying to themselves. I always try to draw them out and find out a little about them. Times have changed so much, even from 1980 when I started, especially the technology. There are so many ways people can contact you now, it can be overwhelming.”
Godwin also has great appreciation for his family’s connections with the NCBA.

“The North Carolina Bar Association has always been a great resource for us,” he said. “We utilize our bar membership as much as we can, and I do most of my CLE with the Bar Association. We try to take advantage of every opportunity we can.”