Tharrington Smith has been a partner to public education in North Carolina for over forty years. Our attorneys specialize in the unique legal needs of K-12 educational institutions, supporting our clients through the day-to-day challenges of providing public education in a complex legal and political landscape. We serve as general counsel for numerous North Carolina school systems, offering special expertise on a wide range of issues, including public records and open meetings law, personnel, student services and discipline, civil rights, special education, contracts, public bidding, school funding disputes, school construction and renovation. In addition, we provide specialized litigation services to public school clients and their insurers across the state, appearing and advocating before state and federal courts and administrative agency tribunals. With seventeen full-time school attorneys and eight education law paralegals and legal assistants, we are the largest and longest-lasting education law firm in North Carolina. We are committed to providing consistently top-notch legal advice and advocacy and pride ourselves on our expertise, experience, and intimate understanding of the many needs and challenges facing North Carolina public schools.
Tharrington Smith, LLP was founded in 1964 and has enjoyed 56 years of distinction in the practice of law in North Carolina. Education law is the largest practice area in the firm. Other practice areas include criminal defense, family law, election law, and civil litigation. Unlike many top-ranked North Carolina firms, Tharrington Smith has consciously resisted the trend of mergers, expansions, and multiple offices in order to maintain the professional atmosphere and close relationship among attorneys and clients for which the firm is known. We treat clients as people, not “cases.”
The firm’s education law practice began in 1978 with representation of the Wake County Board of Education and the North Carolina School Boards Association. The firm still represents these two clients and now actively represents dozens of school boards, large and small, urban and rural, across the state. In addition to its regular client base, Tharrington Smith, LLP has represented approximately one hundred school boards across North Carolina over the years on various special matters and as litigation counsel. Working for such a large number of boards has exposed the firm’s lawyers to a wide variety of issues and concerns arising in many different settings. Such experience benefits all clients.
Nineteen attorneys, eight paralegals, and other support staff in the firm work exclusively, or almost exclusively, on education law matters, with several other members of the firm, contributing to litigation defense efforts on behalf of our school board clients. The school law attorneys at Tharrington Smith have decades of collective experience representing public school districts in North Carolina. This extensive experience enables us to draw from and expand upon an already deep understanding and voluminous brief bank on a wide range of legal issues, including but not limited to those addressed in more detail below. If a school administrator or school board members has a specific legal question, the odds are good that our education attorneys have already researched it in support of other clients over the past 40 years.
One goal of the firm’s education section is to help our clients avoid the cost and disruption of protracted litigation and administrative hearings. For many years, Tharrington Smith has worked closely with school boards and school administrators to develop sound internal grievance procedures, provide in-service legal trainings, and help informally resolve many personnel matters and other actual or potential disputes before litigation is filed. When disputes cannot be avoided or quickly resolved, the firm has successfully represented school boards in hundreds of cases filed in state and federal trial courts, state and federal appellate courts, and administrative tribunal run by the U.S. Equal Opportunities Commission, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the U.S. Department of Justice, the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings, and other state and federal agencies. The firm is frequently appointed by the North Carolina School Boards Trust and commercial insurance carriers to represent school districts in litigation and has submitted numerous amicus briefs to state appellate courts on behalf of the North Carolina School Boards Association in cases affecting the interests of school boards across the state.
Our education attorneys are active in state and national organizations of school attorneys and work hard to stay abreast of new trends and developments that impact the legal needs and interests of our school district clients. Tharrington Smith attorneys regularly present on a wide variety of education law issues to a wide variety of audiences, including school board members, school administrators, and other school attorneys. Participation in these organizations and activities enhances our lawyers’ knowledge and expertise and has helped us establish positive long-term relationships with officials in organizations such as the Department of Public Instruction, the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office, and the UNC School of Government.
One important aspect of the education law section that is not immediately apparent is that a majority of the attorneys in the section have had a longstanding interest in public education and the rights of children. For example, several of our school law attorneys are children or spouses of public school educators or were teachers themselves before they became attorneys, some with Master’s degrees in Education. The education law practice at Tharrington Smith is not just a business endeavor. It is a collection of individuals who share a passion for public education and are committed on a personal as well as a professional level to supporting public education in North Carolina by providing high-quality legal services to school boards and public school educators with the ultimate goal of affording them the best possible opportunity to educate the children of North Carolina.
Tharrington Smith’s education law attorneys combine experience and legal savvy with a passion for education. We maintain a diverse culture of legal skill for the benefit of school board clients throughout North Carolina. In addition to student matters, the education law team at Tharrington Smith provides a full range of legal services to public school boards throughout the state. We are available to respond to your RFP and answer your school board’s legal support needs.