Exum served on the North Carolina Supreme Court from 1975-1994, and was Chief Justice from 1986-1994. In 1996 he returned to the practice of law at Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP where he led the appellate practice group, supervising and assisting lawyers with appeals in state and federal courts.
Exum was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1967 and that same year began service as Resident Superior Court Judge in Guilford County, NC, holding that position until being elected to the state Supreme Court in 1974. During his service with the Supreme Court, Exum wrote 402 opinions for the court and 208 concurring or dissenting opinions. As a lawyer, he has helped brief and argued more than 40 appeals in state and federal appellate courts.
Exum is a Fellow of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers. He has served in the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association as Chairperson of the ABA Criminal Justice Standards Committee, and as State Chair of the ABA Foundation. He has been active in the North Carolina Bar Association, serving in the 1980s as co-chair of its Commission on Alternate Dispute Resolution and most recently as co-chair of its Committee on Judicial Independence.
He is a founding member of the Elon University Law School Advisory Board and served as Distinguished Jurist-in-Residence at Elon Law from 2006 to 2012. Exum is the recipient of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Judge John J. Parker Award for conspicuous service to the cause of jurisprudence; the North Carolina ACLU’s Frank Porter Graham Civil Liberties Award and the American Judicature Society’s Herbert Harley Award for contributing to the improvement of the administration of justice in North Carolina. He earned a B.A. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a J.D. at New York University.