Burton received his bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1971 and a Masters in Public Health degree from the University of North Carolina in 1974. After working as an administrator and consultant for rural health clinics in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, he received his law degree, with high honors, from UNC in 1980.
Before entering private practice in Raleigh in 1984, Burton was a trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. He has served as President of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, President of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, Chair of the ACLU-NC Legal Committee, Treasurer of Legal Aid of North Carolina, and Co-Chair of the Civil Procedure Study Commission. He currently serves as Legal Affairs Counsel for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and co-chairs the North Carolina Bar Association's Tort Issues Task Force.
In addition to his professional work, Burton chairs the board of the Lucy Daniels Center for Early Childhood and has, since 2000, served as a volunteer tutor/mentor for elementary school students through Wake County Communities in Schools.
Burton has received the Walter Clark Award from the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers and the W.W. Finlator Award from the Wake County Chapter of the ACLU of North Carolina. He was selected as a member of Business North Carolina's Legal Elite in the area of Litigation and is listed in The Best Lawyers in America in the areas of Medical Malpractice, Labor and Employment and Personal Injury. His practice includes medical malpractice, civil rights and dispute resolution.