Construction: Jeffrey J. Davis

By Laura Williams-Tracy
Growing up outside Chicago, Jeffrey Davis was scolded plenty of times by his parents for quarreling with his younger sisters. His argumentative nature, they told him, would serve him well in a career as a lawyer. While he grew up to be a lawyer, that personality trait is exactly the one that Davis admits he has had to keep in check. The combative little boy has grown up to be a leader among professional negotiators in solving problems where everyone leaves with some sense of victory.

The contradiction is one of many in Davis’ character. He’s a Harley rider described by one client as a “gunslinger” who writes and publishes essays on the possibility of world peace. This year, because of his ability to help contractors, designers and building owners find middle ground in their disputes, Davis is the state’s top construction lawyer.

“Some clients think they want a hired gun to go beat up the other side,” says Davis, a partner with Moore & Van Allen PLLC in Charlotte. “I try to not fight at all. I’ve come to believe there are no absolute truths but a search for a common alignment on certain things.”

Davis’ aim for compromise not only serves him well in disputes but works in other areas of law. Aside from construction, he handles securities regulation and disputes among owners of closely held businesses. “I don’t think of myself as a construction lawyer. What I know how to do is persuade people to do the right thing.”

For a while in early adulthood, Davis didn’t know what the right thing was going to be for him. The son of an electrical engineer and a homemaker, he dropped out after his freshman year at Loyola University of Chicago, hoping to find a few life experiences to fuel a career as a 12-string-guitar-playing songwriter. He wandered around the country about six months. Then, deciding he needed discipline, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He spent four years in the military, including 13 months in Vietnam, eventually rising to sergeant. He trained in electronics and spent most of his time fixing teletypes and cryptographic computers.

Davis emerged from the service with a wife and plans to finish college and attend law school. He did more than that; he graduated with honors. While stationed at Camp Lejeune on the North Carolina coast, he had visited Charlotte on a long weekend and liked it, so he took a one-year clerkship there with U.S. District Court Judge James B. McMillan. After his clerkship, he joined Moore & Van Allen because he didn’t feel like an outsider — its 16 lawyers had graduated from 13 different law schools.

Davis’ early cases litigating construction disputes soon led to work as an arbitrator, where some of his strongly held views about finding common ground began to develop. “He’s told me many times that ‘as far as the law is concerned, you are OK, but I don’t think you think it’s really right,’” says Tom Dooley, founder of Charlotte-based R.T. Dooley Construction Co. “Right there, he’s told me I need to fix it.”

Others — not necessarily his legal clients — look to Davis to help them out of difficult positions professionally and personally. In the last five years, Davis has begun a side business, Win-Win Results LLC. He spends about 15 hours a week coaching people, through training sessions, to accept compromise, and he offers mediation services. Young lawyers know of his Zenlike approach to turning battle into barter and regularly attend his seminars.

“He’s an unbelievable listener and kind of a father figure to me,” says Davis’ motorcycle-riding buddy Nick LaVecchia, owner of LaVecchia’s Seafood Grille in Charlotte. He seeks Davis’ guidance on almost every aspect of his life. “Everything seems to be easy when I’m dealing with him.”