All construction projects share a common denominator — they begin by moving dirt, doing the “grunt work” to ensure a solid foundation. Only when the site is level can the contractor begin building up and out.
That in essence has been the strategy of the law firm of Ott & Purdy of Jackson. Originally almost exclusively focused on, and recognized for, construction law, the firm has diversified into other areas of law by encouraging personal initiative among its attorneys and by staying attuned to its clientele’s needs.
“We’re best known for construction, assisting commercial contractors in problem-solving on large projects,” said William R. “Bill” Purdy, a founding partner of the firm along with Luther Ott. “In our early history, we spoke to groups about construction law, joined all the construction trade associations, published articles. We did anything we could do to announce to the construction industry that we were here and could handle their business. Thus, construction has been our focus until recently.
“However, we have also begun focusing in areas such as employment law, commercial litigation, real estate, bankruptcies, environment and even some personal injury. We’ve added these specialties because our clients have asked for them.
“We are also very interested in having our lawyers feeling fulfilled. Each year, they present a personal business plan which includes their goals for the year and areas of practice that interest them. That has led to more diversification, as well.”
IMPRESSIVE GROWTH FOR JACKSON FIRM
Perched on the 11th floor of SkyTel Center South offering a panoramic view of downtown Jackson, Ott & Purdy casts an aura of success. When taking into account the firm’s humble beginnings, its growth is even more impressive.
The roots of the firm actually began in Atlanta where Ott, a Hattiesburg native, and North Carolinian Purdy practiced together in a construction-oriented law firm. The two developed a mutual professional and personal regard that ended temporarily when Ott decided to move back home to Mississippi in the 1970s. Shortly thereafter, Purdy was made a job offer and moved to Jackson.
In the Capital City, the two men rekindled their friendship. The pair eventually decided to open their own firm with the goal of becoming the preeminent construction law firm in the state.
On April 1, 1980, Ott & Purdy opened its doors. The client list was rather small — a grand total of three.
“But they were good ones,” Purdy said with a laugh.
Growth began immediately. Ott & Purdy hired a third attorney before that first year was out. The firm successively outgrew one facility after another (it even built its own facility in the early 1990s only to outstrip it in two years), as well as adding services and gaining expertise and reputation along the way.
`RESPONSIVENESS` KEY TO CONSTRUCTION LAW
Today, Ott & Purdy boasts a client list of more than 1,000. It represents the largest contractors in Mississippi, most of them involved in projects in many states. Also, mainly due to its other concentrations in federal government contracts and surety law, it has many national clients. Thus, Purdy said the firm can count clients in 30 states.
The payroll has also grown. Today, Ott & Purdy has six partners, three associates, two legal assistants and a supporting staff of 11.
At one point, the firm actually had more attorneys and staff than it does now. Purdy said the firm made the decision to trim back to a more manageable size, mainly due to its clientele.
“Responsiveness is the key in construction law,” said Purdy, a decorated Vietnam veteran who recently became the first Mississippi attorney inducted into the prestigious American College of Construction Lawyers. “There are going to be unforeseen problems that arise on any construction project that demand immediate attention. The owner runs out of money or a subcontractor files bankruptcy — something is going to happen that was unplanned. Contractors can’t wait weeks for a solution. They are on a deadline, so we are on a deadline. Time is everything.”
ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION EMBRACED
While Ott & Purdy has a wealth of trial experience, Purdy said going through a protracted legal battle is often counterproductive for the firm’s clients. Thus, the firm has also developed a proficiency in alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
“We have a long history in arbitration and mediation,” Purdy said. “ADR saves time and money. We consider ourselves more than just litigators. We’re problem-solvers, counselors and partners with our clients. Going through the courts is not always the most effective answer. There is a lot more of a cooperative atmosphere for ARD because people know the cost of litigation.”
LOOKING TO A SUCCESSFUL FUTURE
Planning for the future is a top priority for Ott & Purdy. The firm holds two retreats annually, one of which is dedicated to developing goals and objectives. Purdy said that process not only ensures fresh ideas and approaches that are good for the firm and its personnel, but it creates a sense of ownership and a stake in the success of the firm.
That’s important because the growth mode continues at Ott & Purdy. Purdy said the firm is currently in the market for another attorney.
“I believe we will continue to develop more areas of practice and more capabilities. The challenge is going to be managing that growth,” Purdy said.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com or (601) 364-1016.