James K. Dorsett, III Receives N.C. State Bar Distinguished Service Award, Sole Award Given by Council

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The North Carolina State Bar presented Smith Anderson attorney James K. “Jim” Dorsett with its John B. McMillan Distinguished Service Award, in recognition of his work to strengthen regulation of the legal profession in the public interest, enhance legal education, further the public's understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system, and encourage professionalism among Bar members.

This is the only award given by the North Carolina State Bar Council, and Jim is the first Smith Anderson attorney to receive the honor, which was presented to him by A. Todd Brown, Sr., President of the North Carolina State Bar, in a special ceremony at the State Bar Building in Raleigh on May 8, 2024.

“I am humbled and deeply honored to receive this award, especially since John McMillan was one of the first lawyers I met as a summer clerk, a true servant leader, and an excellent lawyer and person in all respects,” Jim said. “Over the years I was fortunate to work closely with John on State Bar matters, and I had the highest opinion of his ability and integrity.” 

The Distinguished Service Award committee evaluates nominees based on, but not limited to, the following criteria:

  • Cultivating knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients, employing that knowledge in reform of the law, and working to strengthen legal education.
  • Furthering the public's understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system.
  • Devoting professional time and resources and providing civic leadership to ensure equal access to our system of justice for all those who, because of economic or social barriers, cannot afford or secure adequate legal counsel.
  • Aiding the legal profession by helping the bar regulate itself in the public interest and by seeking to improve the administration of justice and the quality of services rendered by the legal profession.
  • Providing professional services at no fee or a reduced fee to persons of limited means or to public service or charitable groups or organizations, by service in activities for improving the law, society, the legal system or the legal profession, and providing financial support for organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.
  • Treating opposing counsel with courtesy and respect; encouraging and counseling peers by providing advice and mentoring; and fostering civility among members of the bar.
  • Promoting diversity and diverse participation within the legal profession.

Jim has practiced at Smith Anderson since he began his legal career more than 45 years ago and has excelled in many areas of law, including business, trusts and estates and insurance litigation. His work includes claims such as will caveats, legal malpractice cases, contract suits and products liability cases in the state and federal courts, but his influence goes beyond his legal practice.

Jim has held significant leadership roles, including serving as president of the North Carolina State Bar, chairing the North Carolina State Bar Foundation, and serving in leadership roles such as:

  • State Chair of the American Bar Foundation
  • State Chair of the International Society of Barristers
  • President of the Eastern N.C. Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates
  • President of the American Counsel Association
  • President of the N.C. Supreme Court Historical Society

Beyond his professional achievements, Jim has spent decades serving the community and the state and was the recipient of the 2021 North Carolina Bar Association’s Citizen Lawyer Award for his work supporting local charities such as Loaves & Fishes and Food Runners Collaborative; civic organizations such as the Rotary Club of Raleigh, serving as president, the Fifty Group and schools including Ravenscroft and Davidson College where he served on the Board of Visitors.

"Jim’s service is well-known and admired throughout the bar, and we are all so grateful to know him," said Byron Kirkland, managing partner of Smith Anderson. "Jim sets a standard for excellence, compassion and integrity that we all aspire to."

Before his passing in 2019, John McMillian spent 50 years representing clients before the North Carolina General Assembly and in courtrooms across the state. John was a past president of the North Carolina State Bar, the Wake County Bar Association and the University of North Carolina School of Law Alumni Association.

The Distinguished Service Award program was established in 2007 when the criteria for recognition were crafted. It was decided that “award recipients should have a record of service demonstrating commitment to the aspirational goals described in the Preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct.” The first two nominees were approved in January 2009.

As reported in the N.C. State Bar Journal article “Who Inspires You?” the award’s namesake noted that the award is meant not only for those lawyers with the biggest reputations, but also for those lawyers who serve with great distinction, but without much recognition.

Past John B. McMillan Award recipients can be found here.


The North Carolina State Bar was created in 1933 by the North Carolina General Assembly as the government agency responsible for the regulation of the legal profession in North Carolina. The State Bar currently regulates over 27,000 licensed lawyers. Protection of the public and protection of our system of justice are the objectives of regulation. The governance and structure of the North Carolina State Bar are established by enabling legislation (N.C. Gen. Stat. Chap. 84) and by rules that must be approved by the North Carolina Supreme Court. The State Bar Council and its officers, committees, and boards control the organization’s policies, programs, and finances. North Carolina has 45 Judicial District Bars, which are subdivisions of the North Carolina State Bar.

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