Colombo Kitchin Attorneys has been a pillar of legal expertise for Eastern North Carolina since 1983. The firm now consists of 12 attorneys practicing in a wide range of areas, including business law, employment law, elder law, estate and trust planning and administration, guardianships, family law, and civil litigation to name a few.
What many consider the traditional route to legal practice involves attending law school directly after completing an undergraduate degree and then going to work in private practice or government practice. Once an attorney has begun his or her career, there is not often much deviation from the original field, though he or she may advance within a firm.
In a historically male-dominated profession, the women attorneys at Colombo Kitchin, Charlotte-Anne Alexander, Ann Marie Holder, and Tracy Stroud, charted their own career paths to find success in the legal field.
Although women attorneys are still in the numerical minority, larger numbers of women entering law school in the past three decades and in tandem with excellent professional accomplishment has eroded gender barriers in the profession. Women bring diverse experiences and strengths to the field.
“We’re in a profession that tends to be very competitive, with an adversarial framework,” says Alexander, former president of the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys. “When you can advocate hard for your client yet find ways to collaborate and get a good result, that’s often a win for everyone. I think that’s a very important way women are changing this profession for the better.”
“I am fortunate to stand on the shoulders of smart, independent women,” Alexander continues. “I am the third generation of college-educated women who worked outside the home. One grandmother was a psychiatrist, another a teacher and my mom was a Registered Nurse. Everyone came from smaller Southern towns with a strong work ethic. My family valued and supported education and that was a wonderful framework.”
Individual family situations influenced both Holder’s and Stroud’s legal careers. After working at a large firm for almost five years, Holder decided to resign and stay home with her two-year old daughter. After several years of part-time and interim positions (and now that her three daughters are college graduates or college-bound), she has returned full-time to her legal career.
“Because [Colombo Kitchin has] powerful female attorneys, I don’t feel like I’m trying to make a way for myself; they’ve already laid the path. [It’s] wonderful to come behind them and know that there’s a place for me here,” says Holder. “Speaking generally about this profession, I’m not going to say there’s absolute equality or that success comes easy for women attorneys, but it’s definitely much better for me than it was for the women who came a generation before me.”
Stroud began at Colombo Kitchin as a paralegal in 2000. She made the decision to attend law school in 2006, attending classes and studying while caring for her two small children along with her husband’s help.
“There was a lot of self-doubt during the process,” Stroud recalls. “It was really hard, but I’m really, really, glad I did it [because it] is the best career I have had.”
After two years in practice, Stroud had her third child, which was challenging as well.
“I took six weeks of maternity leave and came back to work. That was really challenging. When I came back, I felt guilty about being out for six weeks and not generating any income for my family or for the firm. I pushed myself far too hard when I came back,” she says, “but it paid off with me being named partner at Colombo Kitchin Attorneys in 2015.”
Regardless of the personal challenges each woman faced, all agree that working in a service-oriented field is rewarding.
“It always goes back to the client,” explains Alexander. “When you can help a client get to the other side of something and you can provide productive solutions, they feel respected and they feel heard and they feel satisfied with the conclusion. That’s everything.”
“The biggest thing is to try to be a problem solver,” adds Stroud. “You can’t solve every problem, but you can give clients options and help them make an informed decision to move beyond whatever the issue is.”
“This is still an industry in which the relationships you build make a difference in the outcome,” says Holder. “That person-to-person relationship between attorney and client ultimately helps in determining possible solutions. The interactive dialogue is integral to customizing the right solution to your client’s particular set of issues.”
“I enjoy helping folks with their issues. It’s never boring. You never know what you’re going to encounter,” says Stroud.
With a team of lawyers, paralegals and office staff who support another and their grateful clients, Colombo Kitchin Attorneys continues to serve the community as a model of service and success in the legal field.
“Colombo Kitchin is a great place for women attorneys to grow and thrive and serve,” says Alexander. “Let’s face it,” she continues, “the legal profession has not always welcomed women attorneys. I am gratified that Colombo Kitchin [is] a supportive work environment for women attorneys. Colombo Kitchin looks for talent, integrity, collaboration and hard work, and it’s a firm that values those aspects of an attorney, period. It’s what makes the firm a phenomenal place to work.”
Colombo Kitchin Attorneys is located at 1698 E Arlington Boulevard in Greenville and at 130 E Second Street in Washington. Call 252.321.2020 or visit www.ck-attorneys.com for more information.
Areas of Practice: Estate and Trust Disputes | Elder Law
Estate Planning and Administration | Guardianships | Special Needs Law
My primary interest coming out of law school was public interest and so I started out as an AmeriCorps attorney. You hear about people’s experiences. You hear about some of the challenges in communities that you had no idea about and it changes the way you see the world and your ability to help people.
I continued doing the community economic development work and community building in smaller communities for people who had scarce resources. [I] transitioned into a full time legal aid attorney. I got one of the first domestic violence grants in the state and then started handling a lot of high conflict domestic violence and family law cases.
I thoroughly enjoyed the work but was ready to do something else [after 12 years]. Toward the end of my time at Legal Aid, I managed the 10-county Elder Law Project. Through that, project I learned how much I enjoy working with older adults and their families. I enjoy helping give them some peace of mind and using my legal skills to advocate for them, preserve their hard-earned assets and provide creative, pragmatic solutions. I enjoy working with other professionals to get the best result for a client. And so, in private practice, I’ve developed elder law as my primary area of focus and it suits my skills and background well.
A document everyone should have in place is: A durable power of attorney. Sometimes people think of it as a financial power of attorney document, to allow [an appointed person] to manage [your] finances for [you] if [you’re] not able or need help. Somebody needs to have a legal right to step in and manage this for you. If they don’t you may have to have a guardian of the estate which are expensive, time consuming, and all your information is held in a public file at the courthouse for the world to see if they choose to. Anybody who’s over 18 [should have] a well drafted durable power of attorney.
Ann Marie Holder
Areas of Practice: Administrative Law | Estate and Trust Disputes
Estate and Trust Planning & Administration | Business Planning and Transactions | Business Disputes & Commercial Litigation
I decided in my third year of college to go to law school. I thought that the degree would open doors to many areas, not just legal practice. I really wasn’t certain what I wanted to be [so] I thought it would be practical to get a degree that is flexible and versatile.
I started out in a big firm in Massachusetts in environmental law then switched over to trust and estates after I came back from maternity leave. I loved it. But for family medical reasons I gave my resignation and stayed home for a while with my first child. Several years and with two more daughters in tow, I re-entered the legal arena and enjoyed working in the public service in the Office of the Governor’s Legal Counsel for the governor of Massachusetts. The last couple years before moving to North Carolina, I worked part time at a small firm while serving as a state appointed attorney on Massachusetts’ Children and Family Law Trial Panel.
My family and I moved to North Carolina in 2009 when my husband was offered a position at Brody School of Medicine/ ECU Physicians. I have been working here at Colombo Kitchin for about a year and a half and I’m rediscovering law all over again after being on hiatus for nine years; so it’s pretty exciting to be back.
A document everyone should have in place is: A will. You hear horror stories not only about siblings but other relatives and friends bickering about what could have been avoided. It really doesn’t have to be that complicated. What keeps people from [creating a will] is that it’s a task that people find unpleasant to think about or discuss and so they just avoid it all together. Sometimes [they are] not 100 percent sure what [they] want to do. What I tell folks is, if they’re having a hard time deciding how all their assets will be distributed, it’s OK. They should have something in place, and then it’s easy to make changes to their will. But at least you’ve got some protection in place for your loved ones, and you’ve handled the decision making in your lifetime. It’s more expensive to have the probate court decide how to distribute your assets.
Areas of Practice: Business Disputes & Commercial Litigation | Employment Law and Litigation
| Guardianship and Estate Administration
Estate & Trust Disputes | Real Estate Litigation | Family Law
I majored in English, got my masters in English and then I did a little bit of teaching. [I] decided I didn’t want to teach high school kids. I had always had an interest in the law, so I switched gears and did paralegal work. I was a paralegal here at Colombo Kitchin from 2000 to 2006 before I entered law school.
I decided I wanted to go to law school because I wanted to be challenged, and I wanted to be able to be the decision maker. I felt like I was capable of doing more. I figured that life is too short not to go after what I really wanted. So, I applied to law school, moved our whole family (husband and two daughters) to Buies Creek, North Carolina to attend Campbell Law School, and went to law school with two little girls not yet in school. I graduated in 2009, and I’m coming up on my tenth year of practice.
When you start out [in law] you don’t know what you’re going to do. You don’t know what the need is in the community. You have to find your niche. After ten years, I’ve had three areas that have become my focus: employment and small business, family law, and estate and guardianship administration.
A document everyone should have in place is: A living will, which some people refer to as a Do Not Resuscitate Order. The living will is a paragraph which should be within a health care power of attorney. The Living Will states, if the person’s physician says to a high degree of certainty, that [the person] has a terminal disease, or is in a vegetative state, or has cognitive problems that will not improve, and the person can’t speak or make decisions, the person directs in the document not to have any life-prolonging measures taken; the person has directed to be kept comfortable and out of pain. By the person making the decision ahead of time, it takes a lot of stress from the family at the end of the person’s life.