Legal Dream Team Starts With Everett

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Law firms headquartered elsewhere have crashed the Northwest Arkansas party, jumping in on the business provided by the area’s rapid growth.

While there seems to be plenty of cases to go around for everyone, the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s legal “dream team” is dominated by lawyers from firms that are based in Benton and Washington counties.

The Business Journal surveyed lawyers, city officials and local executives and asked what lawyer they’d recommend in four business-related categories — bankruptcy, employment, securities/transactional law and tax/estate law. We also asked the community and industry leaders which lawyer they’d select to represent them personally in a court room.

We guaranteed the more than 50 sources used for this compilation anonymity so they would feel comfortable speaking frankly.

The top guns in the courtrooms included an impressive list that was headed by Fayetteville’s John Everett.

“[Everett is] who I’d call if I ever found myself in trouble,” an expert from the legal community said.

Another competitor said Everett has a “completely facile mind.”

“John is extraordinary because he is so quick on his feet,” said the competitor. “He’s tough and aggressive.”

Another lawyer said he felt Everett was “not only the best trial lawyer in Northwest Arkansas but in the state. He has the gift of reading people, understanding human motivation and the way that people react to stress.”

A fellow Fayetteville lawyer added, “John and W.H. [Taylor of Taylor Law Firm] can get a bad set of facts and figure out something good to talk about. John is not always the easiest s.o.b. to get along with, but he’ll win for you.”

Both Everett and Jack Butt, a partner with Davis Wright Clark Butt & Carithers in Fayetteville, were members of JACG. Everett was in the Navy and Butt was in the Army.

In each of the five categories, the top lawyers were from locally based firms, although only Butt (tax/estate) is a native of Northwest Arkansas.

“A lot of Little Rock firms have low-balled the firms up here, attempting to obtain a presence here,” one lawyer said. “But you still see [Fayetteville’s Bassett Law Firm] handling Wal-Mart and Tyson stuff.”

Nevertheless, firms such as Wright Lindsey & Jennings and Friday Eldridge & Clark, each based in Little Rock, have made a significant impact in Northwest Arkansas with their Fayetteville offices.

Many of the lawyers listed in our survey, even those originally from Northwest Arkansas, were educated out of state at such prestigious law schools as Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. That includes tax expert Greg Jones and securities specialist Tom Stockland.

Butt, whose late father Thomas F. Butt was a Fourth Judicial Circuit judge for 50 years, left Arkansas to be schooled at the University of Virginia and George Washington University in Fairfax, Va.

Several lawyers were picked in multiple categories, and in even more instances, particular firms such as Bassett, Fayetteville’s Ball & Mourton and Taylor Law Firm, Springdale’s Cypert Crouch Clark & Harwell and Rogers’ Matthews Campbell Rhoads McClure Thomas & Fryauf were named in general instead as individuals.

The Bassett Law Firm is perhaps the most recognizable firm in the area, even before Woody Bassett’s friendship with Bill Clinton was big news. The halls of the Bassett Law Firm are loaded with top guns in several areas of law.

“Bassett has such a large staff with so much expertise,” one lawyer said. “If I was on trial and my welfare, whether physically or financially, was at stake, I would want to be in Bassett’s hands.”

With major companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Tyson Foods Inc. and J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. headquartered in Northwest Arkansas, high-profile cases are quite regular. And often the area’s legal dynamos square off in court.

Rogers’ David Matthews handles some Wal-Mart cases. Fayetteville’s Bobby Odom beat Wal-Mart in a Benton County court in 2000.

Two of our most decisive surveys were in bankruptcy law (Jill Jacoway) and securities/transactional (Ken Shemin). Both Fayetteville lawyers have their own practices on the downtown square. Jacoway was close to a unanimous selection when it came to the best bankruptcy lawyer.

Shemin boosted his profile by championing Tyson Foods in its trade secrets fight with ConAgra Inc.

Jacoway discovered bankruptcy law almost by accident early in her career and has leaped to the top of her profession. Butt, our top tax/estate lawyer, realized early that specializing in tax law would allow him to become more than just another lawyer in the Yellow Pages.

Rogers’ Stephen Wood was chosen as the top employment lawyer, getting praise from people in both counties.

Even lawyers not practicing as much or at all anymore were mentioned. E.J. Ball was lauded as “the best tax and transaction lawyer Fayetteville had for many, many years.”

Ball’s presence is still strong with lawyers he’s tutored, and who are continuing the Ball & Mourton firm’s tradition. There’s also former Tyson Foods corporate counsel Jim Blair, who now only takes select cases at his Springdale office.

The veteran attorneys of choice may have been forced to change their tactics in some form or fashion over the years, but others have remained successful with an old-school approach.

The Everett Law Firm is among the few firms that have not joined the Web world. Others, including Bassett Law Firm and Matthews Campbell Rhoads McClure Thompson & Fryauf, have taken advantage of the Internet with their own Web sites.

The area will never be lacking for lawyers. As long as the University of Arkansas’ Law School remains in Fayetteville, there will always be plenty of lawyers around to change a light bulb and settle the old question in the joke.

As one local businessman said, “Sometimes, I look around in a restaurant and see a half-dozen lawyers or more. I’m afraid to get up to go to the bathroom. If I trip, I’m scared they’d fall all over themselves trying to get me to sue the place.”

Gov. Mike Huckabee once threatened to move the UA Law School to Little Rock during the Razorback football controversy that took games away from Little Rock.

One lawyer quipped, “Good. Maybe we wouldn’t have as many [lawyers] stick around up here after they graduate.”

Trial

John Everett, Everett Law Firm, Fayetteville

It’s likely John Everett has seen just about everything in Northwest Arkansas’ courtrooms over the last 27 years. If not, he likely experienced it in his extensive prelaw travels.

Everett was reared on a rice farm in the small east Arkansas town of McCrory. After attending Arkansas Tech and graduating from the University of Arkansas Law School, he was in the United States Navy JACG Corps, stationed in Adak Station, Alaska, on the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea.

“Growing up on a rice farm, I really didn’t know anyone that could help me get a job,” Everett said. “But a guy I’d gone to law school with was in Prairie Grove, so I moved there.”

Everett, selected as the top trial lawyer in Northwest Arkansas by his peers, began practicing law in Prairie Grove in 1974 and moved his practice to Fayetteville in 1991.

“I had wanted to get back to the states to find out where I wanted to go, but I decided I didn’t want to go anywhere,” Everett said. “I still live in Prairie Grove.”

Others

Lawyer — Law Firm — City

Bill Bassett — Bassett — Fayetteville

Woody Bassett — Bassett — Fayetteville

Jim Crouch — Cypert Crouch Clark & Harwell — Springdale

Jim Lingle — Lingle & Fulcher — Rogers

Bobby Odom — Odom & Elliott — Fayetteville

David Matthews — Matthews Campbell Rhoads McClure Thompson & Fryauf — Rogers

Jim Rose III — Rose & Woods — Fayetteville

W.H. Taylor — Taylor — Fayetteville

Jeff Watson — Davis & Watson — Springdale

Bankruptcy

Jill Jacoway, Jacoway Law Firm, Fayetteville

Jill Jacoway laughed when asked how she became so successful as a bankruptcy attorney.

“I really wanted to be a tax lawyer, but nobody wanted me,” Jacoway said.

She attended a seminar on bankruptcy law, but was unsure how she would break into the business. She applied for a trustee position, and her timing couldn’t have been better. The week she applied for the post, one of the two trustees in Fayetteville passed away, and Jacoway had been the only applicant on file.

A Chicago native, Jacoway’s parents retired to Russellville, but she attended the University of Florida and later lived in Indianapolis. She and her husband moved to Fayetteville to attend law school, and she’s been in practice in the area since 1976.

One attorney said, “Jill Jacoway is head and shoulders above anyone else in this area. She has a wonderful work ethic and truly cares about people.”

Jacoway, owner of Jacoway Law Firm on the Fayetteville Square, exclusively handles bankruptcy cases.

“It’s all I know how to do,” she said. “Nobody wanted to do bankruptcy because they didn’t think you could make money. And they were right.”

Others

Lawyer — Law Firm — City

Ronald “Buzz” Boyer — Boyer Schrantz Rhoads & Teague — Rogers

Rick Hood — Hood & Stacy — Bentonville

John Terry Lee — Lee — Siloam Springs

Jack Martin — Jack & Holly Martin — Fayetteville

Securities/Transactional

Ken Shemin, Shemin Law Firm, Fayetteville

Ken Shemin’s versatility was proven when several of his peers selected him as the best lawyer in Northwest Arkansas in multiple legal categories.

Shemin was the top choice in one of the most specialized legal areas — securities and transactional law.

“Ken is an extremely bright guy and an extremely nice guy,” said one local lawyer. “He probably has more experience than anyone else in the state in this field. He’s tried a lot of big cases, so he’s certainly not intimidated in any way.”

One of Shemin’s most high-profile cases came when he was a partner with Little Rock’s Rose Law Firm and handled securities mogul Jack Stephens’ divorce.

A Little Rock native, Shemin attended Memphis State and Tulane universities and graduated from Memphis State Law School. He joined the Rose firm in 1978. His wife had family in Northwest Arkansas, and in 1995 he joined the firm of Everett, Shemin, Mars and Stills in Fayetteville. “Those are still all great friends of mine,” Shemin said.

Shemin opened his own practice in 1997.

Others

Lawyer — Law Firm — City

Ray Green — Ball & Mourton — Fayetteville

Tom Stockland — Stockland & Trantham — Fayetteville

Employment

Stephen Wood, Stephen Lee Wood Law Firm, Rogers

One of the praises heaped upon Rogers lawyer Stephen Wood from a peer in the community was that Wood was very thorough in his preparation.

In fact, born in Colorado and raised in Nebraska and later Fort Smith, Wood made Northwest Arkansas his home after checking out the alternatives.

After graduating from the University of Arkansas Law School, Wood began the process of job hunting.

“The further I got away from this area interviewing for jobs, the better this area looked,” Wood said.

Wood began practicing law in 1981 and is particularly strong in the employment law field.

“I’ve been blessed with having some very good people as clients who lost there jobs for reasons they could not control — age, race, gender, handicap,” Wood said. “Some of them lost their careers, homes and identities along the way. Seeing genuine smiles after months and years of hardships and litigation is quite a reward.”

Another person from the legal community said Wood was “a very diligent person, scholarly even. He is a very formidable advocate for his clients.”

Others:

Lawyer — Law Firm — City

Barbara Lingle — Lingle & Fulcher — Rogers

Jim Rose — Rose & Woods — Fayetteville

Bob Still — Bassett — Fayetteville

W.H. Taylor — Taylor — Fayetteville

Tax/Estate

Jack Butt, Davis Wright Clark Butt & Carithers, Fayetteville

To say Jack Butt came full circle in returning to Fayetteville hardly does justice describing the Fayetteville lawyer’s travels.

Son of the late Thomas F. Butt, who served for 50 years as chancellor of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, Jack Butt left Fayetteville for 13 years after high school.

He graduated from the University of Virginia and later with honors from George Washington University’s Law School. Butt served the next four years in active duty with the United States Army JACG Corps. There, he served as a lawyer for the Army, practicing in Germany, Korea and The Pentagon.

Butt had begun his professional career as a criminal defense lawyer, but when he returned to George Washington to finish his Master’s, he earned his LL.M. in the area of taxation.

“I went back and got a tax degree simply because I thought it was a more marketable skill than being a criminal lawyer,” Butt said. “It gives you something more to sell to a firm than just being a lawyer.”

Butt has been back in Fayetteville since 1981 with what is today known as the Davis, Wright, Clark, Butt & Carithers firm.

Others:

Lawyer — Law Firm — City

Jerry Dossey — Dossey & Burke — Bentonville

Greg Jones — Jones Jones & Lushbaugh — Fayetteville

Gene Kelly — Kell — Rogers

Ken Mourton — Ball & Mourton — Fayetteville

Chris Rogers — Mitchell Williams Selig Gates & Woodyard — Bentonville