On September 1, 1964, Harold Tharrington and Wade Smith, classmates at UNC, opened the doors of their new law firm. They welcomed any client who walked in, paying or not. They survived, then prospered, and in the next few years they were joined by Wade's brother, Roger, and by Wade Hargrove.
The firm became Tharrington, Smith & Hargrove and began developing its eclectic collection of specialties. Tharrington eased into a family law practice; the Smiths focused on criminal defense; and Hargrove started to build a radio/television practice. Though these became the best known parts of the firm's work, the lawyers continued to accept any kind of case that arose.
By 1985, when the firm moved to its present building, there were a dozen lawyers on hand and a new speciality, school law. When George Rogister joined the firm, he brought his client the Wake County Board of Education, followed soon by the North Carolina School Boards Association, and over time the boards for Edgecombe, Durham, Person, Hertford and numerous other counties.
Rogister was followed by John Edwards who quickly started winning significant personal injury cases, then medical malpractice, establishing yet another area of firm expertise.
By the late 1980s the firm had passed 30 lawyers and outgrown the building. The Smiths were the best known criminal defense lawyers in the state, their reputation fueled by high profile cases such as the defenses of Jeffrey MacDonald and lieutenant governor Jimmy Green. Hargrove had built a sophisticated communications practice, listing the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters and the national organization of ABC TV affiliates among his clients. Tharrington's family law practice expanded to one of the best known in the state and Rogister, who chaired the National Council of School Attorneys, established one of the premiere school law practices in the country. Edwards, meanwhile, went from one courtroom triumph to another, becoming the most successful trial lawyer in North Carolina.
The early 1990s were a time of transition. Harold Tharrington retired, but Carlyn Poole, Jaye Meyer and others continued to grow a family law practice that became the largest and most respected in the state. Wade Hargrove moved to another firm with his communications practice, and Edwards decided to start his own small, boutique firm specializing in medical malpractice. (Edwards later was elected to the United States Senate and in 2004 became the Democratic candidate for vice president.) Rogister died, but Ann Majestic and others built on his foundation to create one of the largest and best regarded education law practices in the country.
Since the mid-1990s Tharrington Smith has stayed around two dozen lawyers, purposely choosing to retain a size that allows sufficient support for all levels of cases while still retaining collegiality. Unlike many other Raleigh firms, it has resisted merger into larger national or regional firms. The best known specialties - criminal defense, education, family law - remain at the core of the firm's practice, but Tharrington Smith now is well known also in such areas as civil litigation, business law, voting rights, regulatory law, local government and construction.