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Law firms meld smoothly after December merger

JACKSON — After a five-year courtship, the union of two of Mississippi’s most respected law firms is official.

On Dec. 1, Brunini, Grantham, Grower & Hewes, PLLC, and Alston & Jones, PLLC, both Jackson-based law firms, combined their respective practices and consolidated operations at Brunini’s home — on the 14th floor of the Trustmark building on Capitol Street in downtown Jackson. Terms of the Brunini acquisition of the Alston firm were not disclosed.

“We’ve been wanting to merge with Alex and his firm for several years, and the time became appropriate for us to merge now,” said Christopher A. Shapley, a partner with the Brunini firm. “It worked out and we’re very happy about it.”

Shapley said that Alex Alston, who has been active in trial and appellate practice for 37 years, and is regarded as one of the finest trial lawyers in the state and the South is recognized as “truly a lawyer’s lawyer in the legal community.”

“Alex and his partners have outstanding reputations,” he said. “Plaintiffs lawyers, defense lawyers and judges all think highly of him. He’s a good role model and I want our younger lawyers to learn from him.”

Alston said the merger would have happened sooner if there hadn’t been client conflicts.

“We couldn’t have one arm suing the other, so we had to wait until we cleared out all our conflicts before we could get together,” said Alston. “It was well worth the wait.”

The combined firms now have about 120 employees, including 61 lawyers and 19 paralegals, Shapley said.

“It’s a pure merger,” said Alston. “It wasn’t a cherry-picking merger. They got everything I had and I got everything they had. We’re spread out through the firm because we didn’t want our little firm working as a group. We wanted to meld into this whole organization as quickly as we could.”

The day the merger was official, Alston and his associates moved from their offices at 121 North State St.

“I found more things in old files than you could imagine … an old memo from 1965 that would blow your mind, a bottle of old Scotch from a party after one great victory,” Alston said, talking from his new office on the top floor of the Trustmark building overlooking the governor’s mansion. “It brought back lots of memories, including a few tears, because sometimes cases go well and … sometimes they don’t.”

The Brunini firm has grown significantly through acquisitions and internal expansion. This merger represents Brunini’s second major expansion in the last five months. In July, the firm opened an office in Pascagoula, its first outside Jackson.

“We’ve been approached by some regional firms about merging with them, and we’ve considered merging with other firms in Mississippi, but we decided to remain a Mississippi-based firm and to offer the quality and variety of legal services that best serves our clients in Mississippi and surrounding states,” Shapley said.

Alston said merging with the Brunini firm was a natural next step.

“I’ve been watching these folks for 37 years and have known them as friends for a number of years, and I knew they protected their clients better than anybody else,” Alston said. “They operate with enthusiasm and look after their clients’ business with a zealousness you don’t often see anymore. In some cases, I’ve had to litigate against them, so I knew lots about them. It was strange when I first walked down the halls over here because it seemed I knew everybody, and in some cases, their children and parents.”

Shapley, also a top-notch litigator, said the litigation section has not yet been reorganized, but added that Alston is “definitely our head man.”

The pro bono work, for which both firms are well known, will continue. Alston & Jones received the John Minor Wisdom Award and the Pro Bono Publico Award by the American Bar Association for helping the underprivileged, and the Brunini firm has been recognized for its contributions to the poor.

“I’m absolutely committed to spend some of my time and the firm’s committed to helping those that cannot afford legal services,” Alston said. “This is work you do because you love your profession and want to help people.”

Italian immigrant John B. Brunini of Vicksburg established the Brunini firm, one of Mississippi’s oldest and largest law firms, in the late 1800s primarily to represent the oil and gas industry. When Brunini’s two sons, Alexander and Edmund, joined him in 1929 and 1934, respectively, Edmund Brunini established an office in Jackson, where the law firm is now based.

Brunini’s extensive and diverse client list includes WorldCom, for whom they handle all litigation work in Mississippi, Ingalls, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi, Trustmark, St. Dominic, Dupont and Domino’s Pizza.

Of the firm’s four departments, two sections exclusively handle litigation, which accounts for half of its business. Litigation attorneys handle a variety of cases that involve medical malpractice, complex commercial construction, employment, environmental, product liability, contracts, mass tort, bankruptcy, antitrust, securities and tax issues in federal and state courts.

A third department oversees general commercial, corporate, securities and banking issues. The fourth department covers governmental, administration and national resource matters. The firm is well known as a statewide leader in environmental law.

“That’s one reason I wanted to join this firm,” Alston said. “Having Brunini’s expertise in other areas than mine is such a tremendous service to my clients.”

Walker Watters of Jackson, a prominent oil and gas attorney who joined the firm a couple of years ago, agreed with Alston.

“Since I’ve been here, it’s been a benefit to me to be able to pick up the phone and call another attorney to ask about an area of law that I don’t know about,” said Watters.

Of the veritable stars the Brunini firm has attracted, Circuit Court Judge Robert Gibbs joined the firm several years ago.

“I’m especially pleased to see Judge Gibbs over here and see Brunini’s commitment to minority members of this firm and their vision to see the firm reflect the community in which we live,” Alston said.

The result of larger law firms and increased competition is a better product, said Ed Brunini Jr., senior partner of the firm.

“This is a win-win situation for all involved parties,” he said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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