Joslin Davis Installed As AAML President
This article originally appeared in the November edition of North Carolina Lawyer magazine.
When Joslin Davis assumes leadership of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) on Nov. 6, it will mark the summit of a unique journey for the Winston-Salem lawyer and shareholder at Allman Spry Davis Leggett & Crumpler, P.A.
Davis, a graduate of the University of Georgia and Wake Forest University School of Law, began her law career in Fayetteville where she served as an assistant district attorney under the tutelage of District Attorney Ed Grannis. She later worked in Raleigh, at first for District Attorney Randolph Riley and later in partnership with Raleigh lawyer Joe Cheshire, each of whom she credits as mentors.
Early in her career, there was nothing to indicate that Davis would leave the criminal justice field to become one of the preeminent family lawyers in the United States.
The loss of her father brought Davis home to Winston-Salem where her career took a dramatic turn in the direction of family law. “My father died at a young age,” Davis said. “My mother was only in her late 40s and needed me.”
That’s when she and her husband, attorney Fred Harwell, moved to Winston-Salem from Raleigh and started Davis & Harwell, P.A., in 1980. “That was also the first year preceding the passage of the equitable distribution statute which drastically changed family law in North Carolina. I thought it would be a great area to focus my practice.
“Many people in need of a family lawyer were interested in having a woman represent them. The timing worked out well. I had the interest and trial skills to jump into the equitable distribution arena. I was able to learn a new substantive area of the law as it was developing.
“In my early practice, I practiced every type of family law field including equitable distribution. Then I quickly moved into the complicated cases. I always had an interest in finance, accounting, and business law, so equitable distribution was a natural for me. The law developed where a large component involved business evaluation, executive compensation, tax, and securities law.
“I have been able to work with fascinating business men and women dealing with unique compensation, business valuation, and other financial issues. I immersed myself into that area of the practice to the point where I have developed a niche in equitable distribution involving complex business valuations and commercial issues. Also, I am honored that my family law colleagues have asked me to arbitrate and mediate such cases for their clients.”
Early in her career in 1993, Davis was peer selected as a Fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. To become a Fellow, one must meet stringent requirements demonstrating expertise and professionalism in family law. Since Davis became a Fellow, she immersed herself with work for the AAML.
Davis’ installation as president at the AAML’s annual meeting in Chicago this year comes as no surprise to her colleagues within the North Carolina Bar Association, where she has also been active throughout her career.
Davis chaired the NCBA’s Family Law Section in 1995-96. Davis said, “John Hill Parker of Raleigh was instrumental in recruiting his peers and young people into the Family Law Section of the NCBA. He encouraged me to get involved with the section many years ago.” Davis later served a three-year term on the NCBA Board of Governors.
Davis also served on the North Carolina Advocates for Justice Board of Governors and is a charter member of the N.C. Association of Women Attorneys (NCAWA). “I joined the NCAWA back in 1978 and have been a member ever since,” Davis said. “The NCAWA has grown into a fabulous organization supporting women attorneys throughout North Carolina.”
Davis & Harwell, P.A., became Davis Harwell & Biggs, P.A., after Judge Loretta Copeland Biggs joined the firm in 2003. The firm occupied 380 Knollwood Street for over 15 years and shared a floor with Allman Spry Leggett & Crumpler, P.A., one of the oldest law firms in the state.
Davis said, “The firms had a longstanding, close relationship. Allman Spry with its business and commercial practice was the perfect counterpart to our family law practice. Our neighboring firms combined nearly two years ago becoming Allman Spry Davis Leggett & Crumpler, P.A. Within nine months, Judge Biggs was confirmed as a United States District Court Judge, which was a wonderful event for all of us.”
Regarding her admittance into the AAML in 1993, Davis said, “I am grateful to John Hill Parker for also encouraging me to apply to the AAML in which he was one of the very first Fellows from North Carolina.” Davis first became an officer of the AAML in 2003. She became a vice president in 2006 and served the past two years as first vice president and president-elect, respectively.
Davis said, “The mission of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers is to promote the profession and excellence in the practice of family law. The AAML was founded by a group of nationally recognized family law attorneys back in the ‘60s who decided it was time to put together an organization that implements the mission of the Academy and brings the best of the best lawyers in the family law field together. The organization has grown exponentially since that time and now has over 1,600 members and 26 Chapters nationwide.”
The North Carolina Chapter of the AAML, of which Davis is a past president, has 36 Fellows. Davis said, “The North Carolina Chapter of the AAML is amazing.” To her point, this year alone the Chapter has witnessed the installation of former Fellow Loretta Copeland Biggs as a United States District Court Judge and the installation of Fellow Shelby Duffy Benton as president of the NCBA. Now Davis is taking office as president of the national AAML.
“The North Carolina Chapter wholeheartedly and completely devoted itself to Shelby’s inauguration,” Davis said. “She is such an important part of our organization. And the North Carolina Chapter is doing the same thing for me, jumping in and supporting me. Almost all of our Fellows are coming to Chicago for my swearing in.”
“The theme of my presidential term is the Value, Service, Reward of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers to its Fellows,” Davis said. “The value of the AAML to its Fellows, to the legal profession, and to the community is derived through the service of the AAML’s many committed Fellows. The AAML’s Fellows and Committees have been diligent in accomplishing its mission of promoting professionalism and excellence in the practice of family law and providing the reward to its Fellows of camaraderie, education, and support.”
Davis, who is the senior partner of the Family Law Practice Group of Allman Spry Davis Leggett & Crumpler, P.A., approaches her work with the AAML as an extension of her practice. “It takes a tremendous time commitment,” she said, “and, as president, you work for your organization as fervently as you practice for your firm. This will be especially true over the next 12 months. I am thankful to be a principal of a law firm so supportive of my professional commitment to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.”
In addition to her selection into the AAML, Davis is also the only North Carolina attorney selected into the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (IAML). Davis also serves on the Executive Committee of the American College of Family Trial Lawyers which consists of the top 100 family law attorneys in the United States.