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Friends for more than three decades, law partners for 20

Madison — They’ve poured concrete together, canoed, rode four-wheelers and thrown baseballs with each other’s kids.

Greg Copeland, Tom Cook, Glenn Taylor and Glen Bush have been friends for more than 30 years. They’ve also been law partners for two decades in a firm they founded with a handful of young attorneys. Today, Copeland, Cook, Taylor and Bush, P.A., is a 64-lawyer firm with a significant presence on the upscale Highland Colony Parkway in Madison.

The four friends started Copeland, Cook, Taylor and Bush, P.A., in 1985 on the first floor of the Capital Towers building in downtown Jackson. Already longtime friends, they had been law school students at Ole Miss at roughly the same time in the 1970s. After graduation, they all wound up working together at the old Heidelberg Woodliff and Franks law firm in Capital Towers. Because of the way the office was arranged, the four men were physically separated from the rest of the staff and they became close friends.

Back then, Heidelberg Woodliff and Franks was considered one of the largest firms in town with about a dozen attorneys. Under the tutelage of the late George Woodliff and Kenneth Franks, whom they consider “giants” in the profession, the four new attorneys hit the pavement “stepping and fetching” for about $30 an hour. They were runners, researchers and frequent litigators. Copeland remembers averaging two lawsuits a week as a young lawyer, many of them over dented bumpers. “There was no discovery,” he said. “You talked to your person, you tried to talk to the police officer and then you’d go try your case.”

They also spent lots of time in the state law library with all the other lawyers in town, back before the Internet, and that’s how they found out what was happening around town. Nowadays, there’s no need to leave your desk.

After about a decade honing their friendship at work and Al’s Half Shell, the four decided to venture out on their own. They didn’t move far, just downstairs into offices that attorneys Fred Banks and Reuben Anderson had just vacated.

In the beginning, they focused on oil and gas, insurance and defense litigation, representing gas producers seeking payment from natural gas companies. The oil business took a serious downturn, but the firm was branching out into other areas such as real estate, environmental and corporate and general business. A merger in 1994 with a tax law firm further expanded the firm’s capabilities in taxation, employee benefits, estate planning and probate.

Today there are 64 attorneys and a total staff of approximately 140 people. The partnership has grown from four to 22 partners and added former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, of counsel.

Bush, a former chemist in the oil fields in West Texas, focuses primarily on oil and gas, environmental, and commercial and real estate transactions. For Taylor, it’s oil and gas, commercial litigation and business work for various clients. Copeland is a litigator, with more than 200 trials under his belt over the last 30 years. They all consider Cook the renaissance man, although he singles out corporate and real estate law.

Over the years they’ve picked up some loyal clients including Southern Farm Bureau, McCarty Farms, B.C. Rogers Poultry, Union Planters, BankPlus, which is a tenant in their building, numerous oil companies, and individuals in the oil business and corporate world who rely on them for business and personal matters.

Probably the firm’s most notorious case is Marty Frankel, who bilked seven insurance companies out of more than $200 million. Copeland represents the Mississippi Insurance Commission and four other state insurance commissions in what has turned out to be a very lengthy and bulky process. Since Copeland put Frankel in receivership May 10, 1999, more than two million pieces of paper have been generated, and more than 100 depositions have been conducted.

In 1999, the four partners left Capital Towers and moved out to Highland Colony Parkway into two buildings they had constructed — 200 Concourse and 400 Concourse. They consider the move a good investment, but back in 1996 when they first started making plans, it was not a foregone conclusion that the parkway would be a success.

“I said, ‘We’re going where?’” remembers Taylor.

They spent a good deal of time looking for space downtown, but in the end decided to take the huge step and build their two 50,000-square-foot buildings on land once occupied by an old barn. Unsure of how their clients would take to the move, they still kept an office downtown for more than a year. The downtown office wound up vacant most of the time, and they even joke that no one could find the keys. It turned out their clients in town didn’t mind driving to Madison, and of course, out-of-town clients weren’t affected at all.

As they celebrate their 20th anniversary, Copeland, Cook, Taylor and Bush are planning to build a third building next door, this one with 80,000 square feet so the whole firm can be together in one building, not spread out over 200 and 400 Concourse. The new building should be finished next fall, and they plan to lease their old offices.

In addition to being a good investment, moving to the parkway gave them the chance to map out a technologically efficient office building, and they are planning an even better layout in their new building. The firm has always put a great emphasis on staying ahead technologically and investing the money to do it. The four men feel that’s vital as the profession becomes increasingly paperless.

Copeland, Cook, Taylor and Bush agree their strong friendship has enabled them to cover a vast amount of ground over the last two decades, and on the way they’ve gathered a great staff and loyal clients. “And we’re still so young,” laughs Taylor.

Contact MBJ Staff Writer Kelly Ingebretsen at kelly@msbusiness.com.

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