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Law Provides Common Ground For Blended Family, Even If They Don’t Talk About It At Home

Law Provides Common Ground For Blended Family, Even If They Don’t Talk About It At Home

Simone Rose and Michael Grace may not be law partners, but their partnership has proven to be a winning combination for this Wake Forest law professor and Winston-Salem lawyer.

By Russell Rawlings
When Simone Rose and Michael Grace return to their Winston-Salem home every night, the last thing they want to talk about is law.

“We discuss very little law,” says Grace, a defense attorney whose wife, Rose, is a professor of law and associate dean for innovation and entrepreneurship at Wake Forest University School of Law. “Fortunately, we have very similar interests – books and movies – and we even happen to like the same types of movies.

“Plus, there’s not a lot for me to talk about when it comes to intellectual property law.”

“And there’s not a lot for me to talk about when it comes to criminal defense,” adds Rose.

The fact that they are a married couple in which both spouses are lawyers is not all that unusual within the North Carolina Bar Association, or throughout the nation for that matter. But their story is unique in that they took circuitous paths to one another, from which he brought a son into their relationship and she brought a daughter, both of whom are now lawyers too.

They met in 1996, a few years after Rose gave up her intellectual property practice with Foley and Lardner in Washington, D.C., where she had worked for more than four years, to join the law faculty at Wake Forest.

“I come from a family of teachers,” Rose said, “and I was at a crossroads. Did I stay to become a partner, which would have taken eight to nine years, or leave? I met a professor at Catholic University who coached me through the process, along with (the late) Marilyn Yarbrough at UNC. And it was a real process!

“I had four job offers but I loved Wake Forest because of its size and the people. Wake Forest didn’t even have a job open at the time, but Dean (Robert) Walsh convinced the faculty and administration to create a new position. It is the only place that I’ve ever taught, and now I am on my third dean: the innovative Dean Walsh, my dear friend Blake Morant and the amazing Suzanne Reynolds.

“Dean Reynolds and her husband (Robert M. “Hoppy” Elliot) were Mike’s classmates in law school. It has all been very fortuitous.”

W. Clark Everett, left, and Michael Grace were honored by the Criminal Justice Section as this year’s recipients of the Gilchrist/Smith Awards.

Grace is a native of Winston-Salem and 1977 graduate of Wake Forest University School of Law. He was a standout basketball player at Parkland High School and received a scholarship from the University of North Carolina at Asheville, from which he graduated in 1974.

After beginning his legal career in Asheville, Grace developed what he described as a case of “Potomac Fever,” which carried him to Washington, D.C. He served as a staff attorney for U.S. Reps. Lamar Gudger and Ike Andrews, and subsequently received an appointment from President Carter to serve as Special Assistant to the Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice.

“When President Carter lost,” Grace said, “we all tucked tail and came back home.”

Home turned out to be a good move. Grace hung out a shingle, practiced on his own for a while, and later formed partnerships that ultimately resulted in the establishment of Grace, Tisdale & Clifton. His office is located in the heart of downtown Winston-Salem only one block from the courthouse.

“I didn’t know when I started out that I was going to be a criminal defense attorney,” Grace said. “Some of it was circumstance, some of it was people reaching out, and the next thing you know.”

The next thing you know, Grace is one of the state’s most highly regarded criminal defense attorneys, further evidenced by his recent selection as the 2018 recipient of the Wade M. Smith Award.

The award is presented annually by the NCBA Criminal Justice Section along with the Peter S. Gilchrist III Award, with the Smith Award going to an outstanding defense attorney and the Gilchrist Award presented to an outstanding prosecutor. The awards are named for their initial recipients, former Mecklenburg County District Attorney Peter Gilchrist and renowned defense attorney Wade Smith of Raleigh.

W. Clark Everett, former district attorney of Pitt County, received this year’s Gilchrist Award.

“No one tries as many cases as they once did,” Grace said. “Early on I tried cases that I probably should not have tried; there just aren’t that many that ought to be tried. If you have a seasoned prosecutor and a seasoned defense attorney, as you get older you don’t try a lot of cases because you’re hard-headed.”

Take the landmark State v. Hayes murder trial of 1989, for example.

“The only reason that case went to trial is because the DA wanted four consecutive life sentences and I would only settle for two. The point is that as a young lawyer you’re litigious and contentious, but as you get older you realize the difference between the two.”

Teaching may well have been in Rose’s background, but she began her career as an engineer. She grew up in New York and moved to Philadelphia when she was in junior high.

“I went to an all-girls’ preparatory high school in Philadelphia and then on to Penn,” Rose said. “It was ironic, because I knew I was definitely not going to stay at home, and then I went to Penn. But I moved every six months for three and a half years when I worked for General Electric in their Technical Marketing Program.”

Well on their way to becoming a family of four lawyers, from left, Michael Grace, Taylor Dewberry, Simone Rose and Michael Grace Jr. attend Taylor’s graduation from Stanford.

Rose entered the legal profession in 1989 following her graduation from the University of Maryland School of Law. Her background in intellectual property law provided the perfect segue into her new responsibilities as Wake Law’s first associate dean for innovation and entrepreneurship and its involvement in the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.

It also meshes well with her participation on the NCBA’s Future of Law Committee, where she chairs the Education Subcommittee. The committee is heavily involved in the planning and presentation of this year’s NCBA Annual Meeting, scheduled June 21-24 in Wilmington. The theme will be “Future of Law.”

“This is going to hit everybody,” said Rose regarding changes impacting the legal profession now and in the immediate future. Terms such as “blockchain” and “cryptocurrency,” for example, may be foreign to most lawyers, but that will not be the case for long.

“My daughter has heard about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency platforms, but has little knowledge about how cryptocurrency transactions operate within the blockchain,” Rose added, “but if you’re actually engaging in these transactions, you know about the blockchain. If you’re using e-discovery and predictive analytics, you will be more familiar with these and other emerging technologies. But ultimately, technology will drive almost every facet of modern legal practice.

“This is an exciting time to be on the Future of Law Committee, and a great time to be at the Annual Meeting.”

Taylor Dewberry and Michael Grace Jr. were attending Mount Tabor High School when her mother and his father, who had been dating for more than a decade, decided to get married. High achievers and successful athletes in their own right, neither child in this newly blended family had any desire to become a lawyer.

“Taylor said she would never become a lawyer because lawyers have to read too much,” Rose said. “And Michael Jr. was going to play in the NBA,” added Grace. Taylor proceeded to Stanford, where she ran track, and Michael Jr. enrolled at Yale, where he was a member of the basketball team.

“When Taylor got to Stanford,” Rose recalls, “she got into pre-law.  Her favorite professor thought she wouldn’t like the practice of law and should instead pursue a doctorate in African-American studies.” Her daughter, it turns out, likes law very much. She graduated from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis last year and is a first-year associate with Smith Anderson in Raleigh.

Michael Jr. earned his law degree from Wake Forest in 2016. He has served as a law clerk to Chief Justice Mark Martin since September 2016 and last fall assumed additional duties as administrative counsel to the Supreme Court of North Carolina.

Their children, both parents attest, have entered a profession that is vastly different from the one they first encountered.

“The legal profession has changed so much,” Grace said. “It is not so judge-centered as it was when I began. The judges were characters and they ruled with an iron fist. They were mostly men, and there were some real tough judges.”

“Now everything is so highly specialized,” Rose added. “Even with intellectual property, I was a generalist, which would be an anomaly today.”

Still, one has the sense that Taylor Dewberry and Michael Grace Jr. will be able to handle anything that comes their way, regardless of where the “Future of Law” takes them.

The preceding article appeared in the May 2018 edition of North Carolina Lawyer magazine, the flagship publication of the North Carolina Bar Association.