University News

UNC School of Law receives largest single cash gift in school’s history

Jerry Wordsworth made his gift to the law school in recognition that lawyers trained at Carolina played critical roles in the growth of his business.

The exterior of the School of Law.
Photo by Steve Exum.

The UNC School of Law has received the largest single cash gift in the school’s history from North Carolina business icon Jerry Wordsworth. The unrestricted gift supports the school’s mission to prepare outstanding lawyer-leaders. Like all gifts to Carolina Law, it is an investment in the future of North Carolina and the nation.

Wordsworth is a Rocky Mount, North Carolina native. Over nearly 40 years, he and his siblings built MBM Corporation into a multibillion dollar customized foodservice distributor serving restaurant chains nationwide. At the time of its sale in 2018, Jerry and his brother Steve were co-owners of the Carolina Panthers football franchise.

Wordsworth made his gift to the law school in recognition that lawyers trained at Carolina played critical roles in the growth of his business. Carolina Law Dean Martin H. Brinkley served as MBM Corporation’s lead outside counsel for more than two decades.

“Although I am not a lawyer and did not graduate from UNC, I believe that lawyers who hold to the highest ethical standards, are committed to public service, and understand business are critical to the future of our country. I wanted to play a part in making sure other business entrepreneurs and communities have access to the best legal counsel,” said Wordsworth.

“Jerry is a wonderful steward of our state. As his devoted friend and admirer for the best part of 30 years, it is inspiring to me that he recognizes the importance of the rule of law and the roles that lawyers play in American communities. Jerry’s gift is a vote of confidence that Carolina Law is producing the caliber of lawyers North Carolina and the nation need,” said Brinkley, who is also Arch T. Allen Distinguished Professor of Law.

Private gifts like Wordsworth’s enable the law school to pursue opportunities quickly as they arise, in support of thriving professional development programs and experiential learning opportunities.

“Jerry’s generosity will allow Carolina Law to recruit the strongest teachers and students in the country. We will use his gift to educate excellent lawyers who will work in private practice, public service, nonprofit work and public interest practice,” said Brinkley. “It takes resources to produce great lawyers. With private gifts enhancing the generous support we receive from the state legislature, the return on these investments will benefit North Carolina.”

Together, philanthropy and the dean’s leadership are propelling the school forward, both in rankings and impact.

UNC School of Law is ranked No. 34 out of the 192 law schools ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 edition of “America’s Best Graduate Schools.” Of the 26 public law schools in the top 50, UNC School of Law is No. 14.

In 2018, Carolina Law also ranked No. 1 among North Carolina law schools for first-time bar takers passing the exam.

And law students are giving back. For two years running, 100% of the graduating class have participated in pro bono projects over the course of their three years at Carolina Law. Students have contributed to cases that range from helping cancer patients complete complex legal forms to securing humanitarian aid for refugee children.

Graduates of Carolina Law have gone on to illustrious careers, including many in the service of North Carolina. Twelve of the state’s past 25 governors graduated from the law school, as did three sitting justices of the N.C. Supreme Court and numerous legislators.

As the oldest professional school in North Carolina, UNC School of Law will celebrate its 175th anniversary in the 2019-2020 academic year.