Derek Allen, an attorney with Ward and Smith in Asheville, announced to colleagues and friends last week that he was leaving the firm he’s been with for the past 10 years to open his own law practice.
Personnel shifts like happen all the time in the world of the 700-strong membership of the Buncombe County Bar Association. So why is this one worth noting? There are three reasons: Allen’s deep community connections, his drive, and the unique role he plays in the craft beer/craft beverage industry, not just here in Asheville, but across North Carolina and the U.S.
Allen, Stahl & Kilbourne are the three named partners in the new firm. Jeffrey K. Stahl and James W. Kilbourne Jr. established themselves in Asheville when they bought The Dungan Law Firm a few years back.
Key questions: who else will join up? And more importantly: what clients will Allen take with him? We’ll have to wait and see.
Allen and Kilbourne have been friends since they met at the UNC School of Law. Kilbourne is known for his work on Indian criminal law and jurisdiction. (He served for six years as the first chief prosecutor for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians before returning to private practice.) Kilbourne and Stahl, a commercial litigator, also have expertise in railroad, real estate, employment and bank law.
Allen, who did his undergrad work at UNC Asheville, returned to Asheville about 10 years ago with a couple of colleagues to open an outpost for Ward and Smith. That practice has a statewide presence with offices in Raleigh, Wilmington, Greenville and its founding location in New Bern. When Ward and Smith arrived on scene, it immediately moved in right alongside Asheville’s “big three” law firms, which all have deep community roots: Van Winkle; McGuire, Wood & Bissette; and Roberts & Stevens.
The new barristers in town made a splash by creating a group specializing in craft beer law. Riding the wave of a national infatuation with craft beer, as well as Asheville’s rising reputation as a craft beer hub, the local alehouse attorneys – namely Allen and his co-worker Hayley R. Wells – signed up clients who needed help navigating North Carolina’s notoriously arcane alcohol laws. Allen will tell you straight up that nobody’s had more looks at brewery issues than he has.
Allen has also been focusing on land use and construction law, as well as offering general business advice. It’s all born of “an intentionality, of being better stewards of the community and the world. It’s about being more present, more hands-on,” he told me in an interview last week. “I want to be the one worrying so you don’t have to.”
Community connections are important to Allen, too. The music lover is president of the board of LEAF, as well as the board of directors at the Wortham Center for Performing Arts. The sports fanatic in Allen is counsel to the Asheville-Buncombe Youth Soccer Association and had early involvement in the Asheville-Buncombe Regional Sports Commission. Allen, as a UNC Asheville alum, serves on the university’s Foundation Board. He’s also a member of the Board of Directors at the United Way of Asheville & Buncombe County.
Best Lawyers, an organization that produces a respected peer-reviewed recommended lawyers guide each year, named Allen the Lawyer of the Year for 2020 in the land use and zoning law category for Asheville.
Will there be drink specials? Can I bring my dog? Will there be food, or just beer law? Can I get a pitcher? Can I get another pitcher? Is the room spinning? What do you mean? Gimmee that trash can.. oh my god… BWA-Gurgle-gurg-phffft!!!
Wait. Get these cuffs off me. My lawyer is right back in there…