Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby, one of North Carolina’s longest-serving prosecutors, announced plans Thursday to leave the office at the end of March and join McGuireWoods LLP.
Willoughby, who earlier announced his intent to depart, informed Gov. Pat McCrory’s office Thursday that his last day as district attorney will be March 31. He will join McGuireWoods’ Raleigh office as a partner on May 1.
He brings an accomplished 28-year record of criminal prosecutions in North Carolina’s capital to McGuireWoods’ already formidable government regulatory and criminal investigations, or GRCI, practice.
“McGuireWoods has the ability to provide high-quality legal services in a professional environment. In today’s world, government regulation presents significant challenges to modern businesses, and the need for careful guidance and experienced counsel is more important than ever. I look forward to being part of a team that provides that assistance,” Willoughby said.
The firm’s GRCI group draws upon a skilled and experienced team of 40 lawyers ranked in the top 30 of Law360’s 2012 global “Largest White Collar Practice Groups.” The practice group includes former federal prosecutors, former attorneys general, and former counsels to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice, the White House and leaders of Congress.
“In my view, you won’t find a more respected or popular prosecutor anywhere in the country,” said Richard Cullen, the chairman of McGuireWoods and a former top federal prosecutor in eastern Virginia. “This is a big boost for us and our clients having someone who knows as much as he does about the regulatory climate we face today.”
Willoughby has spent his professional career in Wake County earning a reputation for integrity and full and fair investigations that helped him easily win election to seven terms as district attorney beginning in 1986. That makes him an ideal fit strategically, culturally and geographically for McGuireWoods, said Mark E. Anderson, managing partner for the firm’s Raleigh office.
“We now offer clients in the Triangle area a full range of services. We have the opportunity to couple clients from individuals to major corporations with the firm’s capabilities regionally, nationally and internationally,” Anderson said.
Franklin E. Freeman Jr., a former North Carolina Supreme Court justice who is now a partner in the law firm and a senior vice president for government relations at McGuireWoods Consulting LLC, has known Willoughby for 30 years and describes him as a farm boy whose easygoing and courtly manner can mask a fierce, smart and diligent litigator.
“He comes across as low-key and noncombative, but when you get him in a courtroom, he’s one very fine trial lawyer,” Freeman said. “I’m his biggest fan.”
John Adams, who chairs the firm’s GRCI practice group, also praised Willoughby as “a perfect fit for us.”
“His vast experience prosecuting complex cases, his impeccable judgment and his relationships throughout the government will further enhance our ability to assist clients facing significant challenges,” Adams said.
Willoughby, 63, is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, earned his master’s degree in business administration at East Carolina University and his law degree in 1979 from Campbell University. He is a past president of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys and served five years on the National District Attorneys Association Board of Directors. He served on the Governor’s Task Force on Racial and Religious Violence and the North Carolina Domestic Violence Commission. He and his wife, Tricia, have two daughters.