IN AN ERA WHEN LEGAL ADVICE IS READILY AVAILABLE ONLINE, PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER BRENT ADAMS MAKES MEETING WITH WALK-IN CLIENTS AN IMPORTANT PART OF WHAT HIS 30 EMPLOYEES DO AT BRENT ADAMS & ASSOCIATES OFFICES IN RALEIGH, DUNN AND FAYETTEVILLE.
“I guess I need the business,” laughed Adams. “If somebody pays you a compliment by coming to your office, even if it’s something you can’t handle or don’t want to handle, I think it’s good to at least sit down and talk with them briefly. I’m a sucker for a bad story, I guess. I may recommend that they see another lawyer or I will suggest that it’s something they can handle themselves.”
To help clients and potential clients, Adams has authored “The Truth About Medical Malpractice Claims,” “How to Get Top Dollars For Your Workers’ Compensation Claim,” and “Ten Costly Mistakes That Can Wreck Your North Carolina Case.”
“The books are very helpful to clients because they explain the law and what to expect during a case or if they don’t have a case,” said Adams. The books are offered for free at his offices.
Brent Adams & Associates handles a bevy of personal injury cases as well as workers’ compensation and social security disability cases. Partners Sheila Chavis and Vance Jennings have worked for Adams for over a decade. Chavis handles mostly workers; compensation cases and Jennings does almost exclusively social security disability and ERISA disability.
Sitting together with Adams, Jennings and Chavis in one of their functional, but not opulent conference rooms, you get the sense of warmth and intimacy you’d expect from small-town lawyers.
“Brent has taught me the personal touch,” said Jennings. “In our Dunn office, people walk in all the time, whether they have an appointment or not. Our clients feel like when they walk-in, they’ll get the attention of our staff. We make them comfortable, offer them a Coke or water and put a name with a face.”
“From watching Brent, I’ve learned to listen to what the clients want and not be afraid to say, ‘Yes, I’ll do it for you, even if I don’t think you can get the exact result that they want,’ sometimes they want to hear someone say, ‘I’ll fight for you,’” said Chavis.
Adams was born and raised in Dunn, North Carolina, in Harnett County. His father, Hoover Adams, owned the local newspaper, The Daily Record.
Growing up, Adams said the late Senator Robert Morgan was one of his role models. Morgan was from nearby Lillington. Adams got to know him through his father’s newspaper. “Robert Morgan was an inspiration to me. He’s a big part of why I wanted to become a lawyer. The thing about Robert is, he grew up in a rural area. He did not have wealth or family contacts. He worked hard and he had a touch for the common man.”
Morgan had a long career as a North Carolina State Senator and led the way in establishing the state’s consumer protection law. While Morgan was serving in the U.S. Senate from 1975 to 1981, Adams assisted him with the Senate Ethics committee investigation of Georgia Democratic Senator Herman Talmadge who was censured by the Senate for “improper financial conduct” involving phony expenses.
“Morgan was a very dogged and determined individual even in the face of overwhelming odds. He was not afraid. He would take on someone even if the odds were against him. I learned from him perseverance and the willingness to take on a challenge even in the face of the odds being stacked against you.”
REPUTATION, INTEGRITY AND VERACITY
“I tell the young lawyers who work for me to treat everyone well…especially the opposing counsel and their clients,” said Adams. “Your reputation, integrity and veracity are all you have. It takes a long time to build it up and a short time to ruin it. It’s very important that you are someone people can rely upon. That they can rely on your word. You fight hard, you don’t pull any punches but you don’t do anything underhanded. Our values at the firm are the golden rule, treat people the way you would like to be treated.”
“If the rules say something or a statute says something, it amazes me how much gratitude I get from a client when they’re making an argument that may not even be very rational, but I say, ‘You know what, I’ll put that to the adjustor and see what we can do,’” said Chavis.
“Clients are over the moon when judges tell them they are going to approve their case,” said Jennings. “It’s very rewarding when I am able to get these folks not only Social Security disability benefits they have paid into the system but also health insurance and that really changes the quality of their life. They are able to live a lot longer.”
TAKE ME TO THE RIVER
Adams and his wife, Susan, have three children, Clay, a real estate agent; Jacob, who works at the firm; and Marilyn, who rehabs houses. They also have three grandchildren. Other than spending time with family and working, Adams professes to having no hobbies.
But during our photo shoot at a local shopping center, Adams stopped us to listen to the song playing on the PA. “That’s Al Green,” said Adams.
Turns out, Adams is a big fan of blues and R&B. He recently attended a “Take Me to the River” musical revue.
He grew up listening to WLAC-AM, the 50,000-watt, clear-channel radio station in Nashville that bounced in on radios across the country at night. It introduced him to gospel music, like the Mighty Clouds of Joy and blues artists like Little Willie John, Muddy Waters, Elmore James and Howlin’ Wolf. But by far his favorite was James Brown, who Adams saw numerous times in Raleigh and Durham.
“He was the most amazing performer I ever saw … and I saw Sammy Davis Jr. and Tom Jones. James Brown far and away surpassed them in showmanship and excitement,” said Adams. “I always regretted not seeing him at the Apollo Theatre.”
Buying a Promise
“The thing that amazes me about the civil justice system is that anyone from anywhere – a factory worker from Harnett County, a teacher from Dunn – can go down to the court and file a complaint if they think they have been wronged. That’s what appealed to me about becoming a lawyer and practicing law. Our legal system, with all of its faults, is still the best system in the world.”
Adams saves his sharpest barbs for insurance companies. “When people buy insurance, they are buying a promise that when it comes time for the insurance company to live up to their promise they’ll follow through. It’s okay for insurance companies to nickel and dime when they are setting premium prices and deciding who to underwrite. They don’t have to underwrite everybody. But once they underwrite a policy and collect the premiums, there should be no negotiation on the pay-out.”
“A lot of people don’t understand that the insurance company does not have the right to bargain on a claim, but they always do. They are obligated to pay the full amount of the loss. Period. So, when they’re really egregious about it, it’s a lot of fun to take them to task. To be able to have someone come in who has been shortchanged by the insurance company and take their case and make their life better really excites me.”
Half in jest, Adams added that he is modern- day Robin Hood or Don Quixote.
He shared the story of the man who broke down and cried when Adams told him he would finally be getting his Social Security disability benefits. “To this man, who is trying to feed his family, whether he wins or loses his Social Security disability case is the difference between eating dog food and living a decent life.”
“When people come to a lawyer, most of them know we are not miracle workers. But they want us to fight for them and be on their side and be their advocate. Even if we’re wrong. That’s my approach to the practice of law.”
“A potential workers’ compensation client from Gastonia said he wanted someone to be a client champion,” recalled personal injury attorney Sheila Chavis, a partner at Brent Adams and Associates. “He’s had a claim open since 2007 and never had a lawyer. He said he was looking for someone to fight for him, someone to be one-on-one with him.” He found it in Chavis, who has been leading the workers’ compensation section at Brent Adams & Associates for over 12 years.
Chavis was born in Queens, New York, and raised in rural Allendale, South Carolina. “My dad’s attorney there was Woody Gooding. I’ve always had this wonderful image of Woody Gooding in my mind. He had an office in a really nice building uptown. I get that same small-town feeling, when I work in our Dunn office,” said Chavis who rotates between the firm’s Raleigh, Dunn and Fayetteville offices.
In high school, Chavis was on a forensic style debate team. “My partner and I were an All-State lauded team during our junior and senior years. I found more interest and success with the topics that were more civil in nature.”
Chavis earned her undergraduate degree in public policy from Duke University and a master’s degree in public policy from Duke’s Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy. She worked for the state of North Carolina as a policy analyst in performance management and budgeting. During the day she worked for the government and in the evenings attended North Carolina Central University School of Law where she earned her Juris Doctor.
Chavis’s husband, Kevin, is a certified saddle fitter, trainer, and avid equestrian. The couple has three kids, Kyle, 21, Mekhi, 13, and Logan, 11.
Chavis is a member of the Western Wake Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Inc., which is active in a wide variety of community events, from health fairs to blood drives to candidate’s forums. “I enjoy the camaraderie and sisterly feeling of doing good things for our community with like-minded people.”
“When I was a young lawyer, I thought I needed to be tough and play hardball,” said Chavis. “I learned very early on that I am most successful when my strategy, arguments, and actions come from a place that is truly me. I can be kind, warm, and friendly and still be a good lawyer. Then when I feel the situation merits it, I can be tough-as-nails, stubborn, and play hardball with the best of them.”
SPEAK UP AND JUDGE FAIRLY
A Bible verse, Proverbs 31: 8,9, framed in my office reads, ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of the destitute. Speak up and judge fairly, defend the rights of the poor and needy.’” said Vance Jennings, senior managing attorney, Brent Adams & Associates.
Jennings primarily handles disability claims before the Social Security Administration and long and short-term ERISA and private disability claims. He is a board-certified specialist in social security disability law. Jennings is a past chair of the disability advocacy section for the NC Advocates for Justice and serves on the NC State Bar specialization committee for Social Security disability law.
“I chose this area of law because this is the area that I can have the most impact on people’s lives. The work I do helps my clients keep their homes, obtain health insurance, get medical treatment and medications, as well as helping them feed their families.”
Vance’s father, Ed Jennings, was an attorney in Winston-Salem. “My dad was my mentor and role model. He handled all kinds of cases. I grew up going to work with him, observing him, and going to all the NC Academy of Trial Lawyer conventions. I would hear the stories and see the good that he and other plaintiffs’ attorneys were doing for people. It was very inspiring,” said Jennings.
Jennings has a Bachelor of Science in communications and in political science from Wake Forest University. He earned his Juris Doctor from Campbell Law School. Jennings also earned his master’s degree in trust and wealth management from Campbell’s Business School.
“The disability process is a long and arduous process,” explained Jennings. “People who are sick, injured, in pain, and disabled truly can’t navigate the system by themselves. They really need someone to help and advise them every step of the way.
“I try to go above and beyond for my clients and help them in all areas of their lives that disability has affected. I help them obtain health insurance, obtain Medicaid, apply for charity care and free medications, advise them about low-cost health facilities. I guide clients to additional help available through social services. This job truly gives me the chance to be an attorney and counselor at law.”
When Jennings isn’t practicing law, you will find him running, rooting for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, or on the tennis court. Vance met his wife, Erin, in law school. She is a former practicing attorney is now a senior administrative assistant at Cary Tennis Park, where Vance has won his share of matches.
Daughters Riley, 12, and Macie, 9, are also dedicated tennis players. Riley is highly ranked in the state. “When we all get together and play doubles as a family it’s fantastic. Hitting a tennis ball is a great stress release,” said Jennings.