Outstanding Alumni

  • Here we recognize some of our distinguished alumni:

  • William W. “Billy” Wilkins '64


    BillyWilliam W. “Billy” Wilkins '64, former Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and former Chair of the United States Sentencing Commission, leads Nexsen Pruet’s White-Collar Crime, Appellate Advocacy, and Corporate Compliance/Crisis Management practices. Mr. Wilkins also serves clients through his work in the firm’s Business Litigation Group.

    Mr. Wilkins played a pivotal role in negotiating the deal that is bringing the Boeing facility to North Charleston.  S.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Senator Glenn McConnell authored a letter to the editor in the February 3rd, 2010 edition of The Greenville News thanking Wilkins for his leadership in helping Boeing and the legislature come together.

    In the White-Collar Crime Group, Mr. Wilkins not only supervises, but also actively participates in, the defense of individuals and organizations accused of criminal misconduct. 

    He also leads the team of appellate attorneys who concentrate their practice on defending or seeking reversal of lower court decisions. The Appellate Advocacy Group handles cases that originated within Nexsen Pruet as well as those from other firms and attorneys, and represents clients in proceedings before state and federal courts as well as government agencies.

    As head of the Corporate Compliance/Crisis Management practice, he works with clients to develop and implement programs to ensure total compliance with legal and regulatory requirements. The group’s capabilities range from reviewing existing policies to designing processes and procedures to reduce the possibility that misconduct will occur. Additionally, he helps to shape strategies designed to manage risk and protect corporate reputation in the event of a crisis.

    Mr. Wilkins’ career spans more than four decades, and includes extensive service to his state, country, and profession.  In May of 2011, a cover article in The Greenville Journal was entitled"The Life and Trials of William Walter Wilkins."

    A native of Greenville, he served as a law clerk for a federal appeals court judge and as a legislative assistant for a United States Senator before entering the private practice of law. He began public service in 1974, when he was elected Solicitor (district attorney) for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit in South Carolina.  Four years later, he was re-elected with broad bipartisan support. 

    During the six years Mr. Wilkins served as the circuit's chief prosecuting attorney, he organized one of the nation's first joint state-federal task forces and successfully prosecuted a number of high-profile cases.  In addition, he organized the first Victim-Witness Assistance Program in South Carolina, which was subsequently recognized as one of the best in the nation by the National Organization for Victims Assistance and the National Institute of Justice.  He also created the first Child Abuse Prosecution Unit and the first Pretrial Diversion Program in South Carolina.

    After a successful tenure as Solicitor, Mr. Wilkins gained national recognition when President Reagan appointed him United States District Judge for the District of South Carolina on July 22, 1981 – the president’s first selection to the federal bench in the nation.

    Four years later, President Reagan appointed him the first Chair of the United States Sentencing Commission. Mr. Wilkins’ mandate was to bring about dramatic and positive changes in the nation's federal criminal justice system. As leader of the Sentencing Commission, he was responsible for establishing sentencing guidelines, policies, and practices for the federal courts.  He was deeply involved in all aspects of the Commission’s work, including writing guidelines addressing white-collar offenses.  This experience makes him well suited to lead Nexsen Pruet’s White-Collar Crime and Corporate Compliance practices.

    Mr. Wilkins chaired the Commission until 1994 while also serving as a federal judge. In June 1986 he was appointed U.S. Circuit Judge for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1999, he was named Chair of the Committee on Criminal Law for the federal judiciary by Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

    On February 15, 2003, he was elevated to the position of Chief Judge of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, serving in that capacity until July 1, 2007, when he elected to take senior status. While Chief Judge, he also served as a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States.  He was recently honored by the American Bar Association with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

    Mr. Wilkins has testified on sentencing and related criminal justice issues before several House and Senate Committees.  He has delivered lectures throughout the United States and abroad.  He is the author of numerous law review and law journal articles.

    Mr. Wilkins is a graduate of Davidson College and the University of South Carolina School of Law, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the South Carolina Law Review and Captain of the Moot Court Team.  He was also a member of the Order of Wig and Robe and was named the Outstanding Graduate of the Year.

    In addition to his distinguished legal career, Mr. Wilkins served 27 years in the U.S. Army (active and reserves) and in the South Carolina National Guard.  He spent 14 years as a member of the Judge Advocate General Corps of the Army Reserves and 11 years as the State Judge Advocate for the S.C. National Guard.  Mr. Wilkins has received numerous decorations and awards, including the prestigious Legion of Merit for meritorious service, and holds the retired rank of Brigadier General.

    Mr. Wilkins taught criminal law and procedure, constitutional law, and family law at Greenville Technical College for 24 years. He is a Visiting Distinguished Professor of Law at the Charleston School of Law where he lectures on a variety of legal subjects.