One hundred years ago, the finishing touches had just been placed on Mississippi’s New Capitol. James Vardaman was governor. William Faulkner was eight years old. Except for a smattering of cobblestone streets in downtown Jackson, dirt roads became rivers of mud during rainy seasons, and it would take another seven years before state lawmakers authorized the issuance of bonds to finance highway construction.
“Just as no one in 1905 would have anticipated that a man would walk on the moon or the development of the Internet, we cannot predict what changes the next century will bring,” said the late Allen P. Bennett, chairman of the board of Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis, P.A., at the law firm’s 100th anniversary gala reception in February. (Bennett died earlier this month.) “Yet, as things change, some things remain constant. Throughout the past century, our firm has been dedicated to providing the very best people to produce the highest quality legal services for our clients. The core principle will remain unchanged no matter how many centuries come and go.”
The full-service law firm has grown beyond its origins in Jackson and operations now extend north to Memphis and south to the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. The latter two operations have been relocated indefinitely to Jackson.
The staff fervently adheres to founder H. Vaughan Watkins’ mantra: “We will well, properly and promptly attend to all business entrusted to us.”
“I am the only member of the firm old enough to have actually known Vaughan Watkins,” joked law firm partner and former Mississippi governor William Winter. “As an Ole Miss undergraduate, I was introduced to him by my father, who was a state senator and a friend and admirer of Mr. Watkins. I was planning to go to law school, and I shall never forget my father’s words to me on that long ago day back in 1942: ‘Son, you just try to be half as good a lawyer as Vaughan Watkins is and you’ll be all right.’”
Watkins Ludlam staffs more than 80 attorneys, and is one of the largest and most well-established law firms in Mississippi. Its lawyers, licensed in 10 states and the District of Columbia, represent 48 law schools, colleges and universities.
“The law firm is very collegial,” said shareholder Randall B. Wall. “It fosters a sense of personal and firm responsibility. I think all the members of the firm are cognizant of the achievements and contributions made by present and former members of the firms. I have been very proud to be a member.”
Watkins Ludlam’s practice groups include business solutions; education, environmental and government law; labor and employment; litigation; and regulated industries.
The firm’s banking practice is one of the largest in the state, and staff was recently added to support the practice group.
“We understand business,” said CEO Thomas B. Shepherd III. “We understand how to talk to business people. We understand how to explain the regulatory and legal processes to them, and we understand how to be creative to get things done. We like working with clients as part of their team.”
As a technology-driven organization, Watkins Ludlam prioritizes the use of cutting edge internal technology systems to facilitate the delivery of legal services. “Right now, I think that our firm is perched and positioned to be a real force not only in this state, but in the region,” said Shepherd.
Watkins Ludlam is a member of Meritas, the world’s largest affiliation of business law firms, and the prestigious State Capital Law Firm Group, an organization comprised of leading domestic and international law firms that represent leadership positions in their respective states and countries.
“Now at a time when the legal profession is the recipient of some of society’s slings and arrows … the role and obligation particularly ours as lawyers (are) to provide the leadership to preserve and sustain an orderly society … a just and fair society,” said Winter. “This law firm has always taken that obligation seriously, and because it has, it maintains after 100 years the respect and confidence of the people whom it serves.”
The elder Watkins believed that lawyers should be involved in community building projects, which became a signature of the law firm. Vaughan Watkins Jr. helped establish the Pearl River Reservoir long before Ross Barnett became governor.
Watkins Ludlam members have had a hand in establishing the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, Jackson Redevelopment Authority, Pearl River Basin Development District, State Aid Road System, Lake Hico, Jackson Metro Housing Partnership, Rural Economic Development Program, the adoption by Mississippi of the Uniform Commercial Code, Mississippi Higher Education Assistance Corporation, Mississippi Center for Nonprofits, Foundation for the Mid South, Enterprise Corporation of the Delta, Eudora Welty Foundation, Major Impact Economic Development Act and Mississippi Home Corporation.
“And there are literally hundreds of other initiatives, large and small, to which we have made significant contributions,” said Winter. “We enter this second century of our existence with the conviction that the best years of our firm, our state and our country are still ahead, and we express our heartfelt gratitude to those who have sustained us through the years and continue to sustain us now.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.