Wade M. Smith, Raleigh Criminal Defense Attorney
Wade Smith has been one of North Carolina’s best known and most acclaimed lawyers for nearly 50 years. His trials are recounted in books, magazines and journals. A renowned story teller, Wade insists that within each case there is a compelling story waiting to be told. In seminars and bar meetings Wade has shared the art of story telling. His cases offer a fine collection of North Carolina Courtroom lore. In 1979, Wade served as counsel to Dr. Jeffrey McDonald in the much studied and discussed Green Beret Murder case. Most recently he was lead counsel for Collin Finnerty, one of three young men accused in the Duke Lacrosse Case.
To commemorate the body of work Wade has completed, the North Carolina Bar Association established in the spring of 2008 the annual Wade M. Smith award “for a Criminal Defense Attorney Who Exemplifies the Highest Ideals of the Profession.” In summer, 2008, the North Carolina Bar Association presented Wade with the H. Brent McKnight Renaissance Lawyer Award which annually goes to “an attorney whose trustworthiness, respectful and courteous treatment of all people, enthusiasm for intellectual achievement and commitment to excellence in work and service to the profession and community, inspires others.”
In Summer, 2009, Wade was be honored along with other lawyers from across America by Best Lawyers in America for 25 years of succession for inclusion in their list. He has been listed in Best Lawyers in America since its inception in 1983. He has been selected to the North Carolina Super Lawyers Top 100 list since its inception in 2006, and has been frequently listed in their prestigious Top 10 list throughout the years. He has been selected to the Top 25 Raleigh Lawyers list by North Carolina Super Lawyers since it began in 2013. In 2016, Super Lawyers Magazine honored Mr. Smith, calling him “Our Atticus Finch” in their cover editorial.
In 2004 Wade was named by Business North Carolina Magazine as North Carolina’s number one criminal lawyer. This selection was based on a vote by his fellow lawyers. He is now a member of Business North Carolina’s “Legal Elite” Hall of Fame.
Wade was born in 1937 in Albemarle, North Carolina. His mother and father were textile workers, having barely survived the Great Depression. Wade and his brother, Roger, were raised in a mill village called New Town. The family attended North Albemarle Baptist Church. Wade recalls that they went to church “every single time the doors opened.” In high school Wade was an All American football player with many opportunities to play on college football scholarships. But he chose, instead, an academic scholarship, The Morehead, at the University of North Carolina.
At UNC he excelled in academics and athletics, serving as one of the captains of the football team and winning many honors as an athlete. He was also awarded membership in the University’s highest honorary, The Golden Fleece. Wade has maintained his connection with the University, serving as President of the Alumni Association in 1985. In 1989 the University awarded him its Distinguished Service Medal.
After completing his undergraduate work and earning an A.B. in English, Wade attended the University of North Carolina School of Law, graduating in 1963. From 1963 to 1964 he was clerk to North Carolina Supreme Court Justice, Carlisle W. Higgins. After his year as a clerk, Wade joined friend and fellow law clerk, J. Harold Tharrington, to found the law firm Tharrington Smith. Justice Higgins was a mentor to Wade throughout his formative years as a lawyer and, after finishing his years on the North Carolina Supreme Court, Justice Higgins joined Tharrington Smith, remaining with the firm until his death in 1980. Wade counts among his most important mentors acclaimed defense lawyers, Robert L. McMillan, Jr., Carl Churchill and Joseph Cheshire V. But Wade says he has learned the most from his brother, Roger W. Smith, a renowned lawyer in his own right.
From 1964 to 1966 Wade was a prosecutor in Wake County Superior Court. He then began his work as a trial lawyer. During the ensuing years Wade has tried dozens of cases before juries in federal and state courts across North Carolina and other states.
In 1973 Wade was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives and was reelected in 1975. In 1977 he retired from politics to devote full time to the practice of law. In 1985 he was elected to a one year term as chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party.
Wade has been chosen for membership in many associations recognizing excellence in trial work. He enjoys fellowship in the American College of Trial Lawyers and in the American Board of Criminal Lawyers. He served as President of the Wake County Bar Association in 1988. In 1998 he was presented the Joseph Branch Professionalism Award by the Wake County Bar Association. In 2014 he received the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism Award. In 2015, Wade was awarded the North Carolina Bar Association’s Judge John J. Parker Memorial Award, the state’s highest legal honor.
In 2006 the North Carolina General Assembly established The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. The purpose of the Commission is to evaluate actual innocence claims made by people convicted of criminal acts in North Carolina. Wade was appointed by the North Carolina Chief Justice to serve as one of the eight commissioners serving on this new North Carolina Commission.
Wade’s work crosses many spectra, both civil and criminal. He has represented people and businesses great and small. Wade insists that there are no small cases. All cases which concern people are important to them, and therefore to him. He often represents businesses and business people in crisis during federal and state criminal investigations and trials. He has represented people from every walk of life and every kind of employment. He has worked in the areas of tax fraud, Medicaid and Medicare Fraud, health care fraud, environmental crimes and financial crimes.
Wade and Ann have two children, Karen Linehan and Robyn Yigit Smith. They have four grandchildren, two girls, Kelsey Linehan and Dylan Linehan, and two boys, Kenan Wade Yigit and Aslan Asa Byrum Yigit.
Awards & Honors
Fellow of the American Board of Criminal Lawyers
Fellow of the International Society of Barristers
2015 Recipient of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Judge John J. Parker Memorial Award
Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism Award, 2014
North Carolina Bar Association established the annual Wade M. Smith award “for a Criminal Defense Attorney Who Exemplifies the Highest Ideals of the Profession”, spring 2008
2008 H. Brent McKnight Renaissance Lawyer Award recipient
Listed in Super Lawyers® North Carolina since 2006
Top 100 List North Carolina Super Lawyers® since 2006
Top 10 North Carolina Super Lawyers® List, 2008-2010, 2012-2014, 2016
Top 25 Raleigh Super Lawyers® List since 2013
1983-2014 Selected for inclusion in the Bet-The-Company Litigation, Non-White-Collar, & White-Collar Criminal Defense sections of Best Lawyers of America®
2009 Award for 25 years in Best Lawyers in America
Lawyer of the Year, Criminal Defense Non-White Collar, 2010, 2014
Lawyer of the Year, Criminal Defense, White Collar, 2013
2004 #1 Criminal Lawyer in North Carolina by Business North Carolina Magazine
Member of Business North Carolina’s “Legal Elite” Hall of Fame
University of North Carolina, Distinguished Service Medal winner, 1989
Wake County Bar Association, Joseph Branch Professionalism Award, 1998
News & Blog
University of North Carolina School of Law
- Juris Doctor, 1963
University of North Carolina
- A.B. in English
- one of the captains of the football team and winning many honors as an athlete
- membership in the University’s highest honorary, The Golden Fleece
- Morehead Scholarship Recipient
- Clerk to North Carolina Supreme Court Justice, Carlisle W. Higgins, 1963-1964
Memberships & Admissions
- North Carolina State Bar, Member
- North Carolina Bar Association, Emeritus
Criminal Justice Section Member
- American College of Trial Lawyers, Fellow
- American Board of Criminal Lawyers, Fellow
- “Is that Legal or Should I Plead the Fifth?” by Wade Smith
- The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, appointed 2006 one of the eight original commissioners
- Wake County Bar Association in 1988, President
- University of North Carolina, President of the Alumni Association in 1985
- North Carolina House of Representatives (2 elections), 1973-1977
- North Carolina Democratic Party, Chair, 1985