Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.

–Samuel Johnson as quoted by James Boswell in Life of Johnson (vol. III)

Erna Womble is a seasoned litigator and respected advocate for her clients. She understands that human beings facing high-stakes litigation typically struggle in the throes of some of the most vulnerable times in their lives. Yet, litigants cannot afford to let their brains be highjacked by emotionally charged reactive behavior and physical manifestations of anxiety, fear, or anger. Disciplined focus is necessary. It is a time to quickly absorb strategies for thinking clearly, solving problems, making myriad split-second decisions, and communicating with clarity and precision. They have to function competently and confidently in the adversarial climate of all stages of litigation, and present publicly under stress with integrity, intelligence, and accuracy.

Valued as a skilled litigation lawyer and trusted strategic advisor, Erna partnered with her clients to concentrate on astutely charting a course for their success in adversarial circumstances over the decades. They appreciated her tailored approach based on their individual strengths, weaknesses, personalities, leadership presence, unique life experiences, and business objectives. Her evolving methodologies for confidential, bespoke leadership presence training were tried and tested for more than 26 years in the crucible of litigation in state and federal courts across the United States and in Canada.

It isn’t that they cannot find the solution. It is that they cannot see the problem.

– G. K. Chesterton.

Erna focuses on identifying the problems that commonly lead to costly litigation and assists in making changes with training and education geared to avoid future claims. She is proactive in advising corporate employees, doctors, and other professionals on Risk Prevention and Mitigation of Claims.

Her representation of a broad swath of product manufacturers included class action claims and federal multi-district litigation (MDL). She defended clients in disability/ERISA high-dollar coverage litigation, represented municipalities on a variety of matters, and defended physicians, surgeons, psychologists, and other healthcare providers against allegations of malpractice. Counseling leaders of industry and corporate officers, she worked closely with engineers, pilots, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and experts across a wide range of fields to ensure mastery of specialized knowledge in preparation for trial.

Erna spent a decade serving as National Coordinating Counsel for one of the world’s largest school bus manufacturers, (Thomas Built Buses). She oversaw all litigation and insurance, working with the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). She was the go-to counsel for senior management on a full spectrum of legal, business, personnel, and other challenges on a plethora of issues ancillary to litigation that intersect with the successful management of a business entity in reaching innovative solutions.

Serving clients’ best interests, Erna’s definition of success is consistent with the needs of each client. She girded for trial, conducting discovery and taking depositions with the aim of leveraging negotiations from an objectively clear position of strength. Clients benefitted from her thorough preparation of their cases at each stage of litigation, often leading to early or summary resolution favorable to her client without necessity of a costly or protracted trial.

Professional & Civic Engagement

Professional Activities

  • Permanent Member, U.S. Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference
  • American Bar Association, Litigation, Torts and Insurance Practice
  • North Carolina Bar Association (“NCBA”)
    • Professionalism Committee (1997-2018), Chair (2004-2006)
      • Co-Course Planner NCBA Professionalism CLE (2000)
      • Led establishment of the NCBA’s H. Brent McKnight Renaissance Lawyer Award (2005)
      • Co-Chair of the H. Brent McKnight Renaissance Lawyer Award subcommittee (2005 - 2010)
      • Course Planner for 1st Annual NCBA Professionalism CLE (2004)
    • Trial Practice Curriculum Committee (2002 to 2008)
    • Vice President, Board of Governors and NC Bar Foundation Board of Directors (2016 – 2018)
    • Professional Vitality Committee (founding Chair: 2019–2021)
  • Product Liability Advisory Council (“PLAC”),
    • Board of Directors (1996-2000)
    • Executive Committee (1998-2000)
    • Corporate Advisory Board (2000-2004)
    • 2007 Distinguished Service Award
  • North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys (“NCADA”)
    • Board of Directors (1998-2001; 2003-2006)
  • Member, Defense Research Institute (“DRI”)
    • Life Health Disability/ERISA Law Committee
      • Program Chair for national meeting in Washington, DC (April 2002)
    • Product Liability Committee
  • Law and the Humanities Steering Committee (2006)
  • Forsyth County Bar Association

Civic Activities

  • Board of Trustees, University of North Carolina School of the Arts (“UNCSA”) (2013–2021)
    • Secretary 2014–2019
    • Vice-Chair 2019–2021
  • Centenary United Methodist Church, Staff Parish Relations Committee (2002-2012) (Vice-Chair, 2009; Chair, 2010); Member of Church Council Leadership Committee
  • Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church: Board of Trustees (2012 – 2019)
  • Board of Directors of The Winston-Salem Symphony (2017–2021)
    • Committees: Human Resources & Governance; Nominating; Strategic Planning
    • Co-chair Philanthropy Committee
    • Awarded 2020-2021 Board Member of the Year
  • Arts Council of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County
    • Co-Chair of Annual Campaign in 2008
    • Arts Forever Fund Board (2009–2018)
  • North Carolina Shakespeare Festival Board of Trustees (2007 – 2010)
  • Women’s Council – Forsyth Medical Center (now Novant) Foundation Philanthropy Committee (2008 – 2013)
  • Rotary Club of Winston-Salem (1998 – present)
    • Paul Harris Fellow (1998 – present)
    • Board of Directors 2005 – 2007
  • YMCA Camp Hanes; Board of Managers (1992-1999)
    • Chair 1996 – 1997
  • Work Family Resources Center; Board of Directors (1997-2001)
  • United Way Women’s Leadership Council (2008 – 2013)

Thought Leadership

  • American Bar Association, Law Practice Today: “Dark and Stormy Nights, Silver Linings, and Attorney Well-Being”, January 2021
  • N.C. Bar Association Blog, blog posts:
    • “‘Murphy’s Law,’ or How an Aphorism Can Sum Up the Legal Mind” –September 2019
    • “Introducing the NCBA Professional Vitality Committee” –September 2019
  • Co-author of North Carolina chapter of Misrepresentation in the Life, Health and Disability Insurance Application Process: A National Survey, (through 2013 edition) ABA Publishing Company, American Bar Association (book)
  • Contributing Author, Chapter 4, “Fourth Circuit”, ERISA Survey of Federal Circuits, (through 5th edition), ABA Publishing, American Bar Association (book)
  • Defense Research Institute (“DRI”): Co-Author of “Rescission of Coverage under ERISA Plans,” DRI magazine: For the Defense, September 2009
  • Medmarc Medical Device Insurance Counsel (US): “Disabling Rambo – Dealing with Unsavory Litigation Tactics and Resulting Ethical Issues” (CLE) Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, June 2005
  • DRI: Life, Health, Disability and ERISA Committee: “When Push Comes to Shove: Disabling Rambo – Dealing with Unsavory Litigation Tactics and Resulting Ethical Issues” (CLE) April 2004, Washington, DC
  • DRI: Life, Health, Disability and ERISA Program Chair: “Case Law Update on Disability Insurance” (CLE) April 2002, Washington, DC
  • Co-course planner, North Carolina Bar Association Professional Responsibility Seminar, “Dealing in A Professional Way With Unprofessional Adversaries.” February 2000
  • DRI: “Legal” and “Factual” Disability in the Defense of Disability Insurance Claims, Life and Health News, Spring 1998
  • North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys (“NCADA”) CLE paper and presentation: “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” October 1997
  • NCADA CLE paper and presentation: “Punitive Damages in North Carolina – 1996 Update.
  • American Bar Association, Tort & Insurance Practice Section Newsletter, “Products, General Liability & Consumer Law Committee”, Spring 1991, pages 7 - 9, “Expansion of The Claim of Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, A Review of Johnson v. Ruark Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates, P.A., 327 N.C. 283, 395 S.E.2d 95, reh'g denied, (1990).”

Honors & Awards

  • 2022 Platinum Compleat Lawyer Award, University of South Carolina School of Law
  • The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina’s Professionalism Award (January 2019)
  • The Product Liability Advisory Council, Inc. (“PLAC”): Distinguished Service Award
  • Peer review recognition:
    • Best Lawyers in America
    • Corporate Counsel Super Lawyers
    • NC Super Lawyers
    • Rated “AV” by Martindale-Hubbell


  • Clerkship with the Honorable Matthew J. Perry, Jr., United States District Judge. Columbia, South Carolina (1986 - 1987)