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NW Miss. firms merge to meet growing needs of region

BATESVILLE and HERNANDO — Last July, the law firm of Smith Phillips Mitchell & Scott, with offices in Batesville and Hernando, merged with the Hernando-based law firm of Nowak & Neyman. The new regional law firm created is Smith Phillips Mitchell Scott & Nowak, LLP, and represents more of a marriage of visions than a merger.

“I always had a vision of us being a regional law firm,” said partner Richard Phillips, familiarly known as “Flip.” “Northwest Mississippi is experiencing tremendous growth as a region. It is also playing an increasingly significant role in state and regional government and business. The talents brought to this new firm by the Nowak & Neyman team will be a huge benefit for our clients throughout the region.”

Anthony Nowak shared Phillips regional vision, common ground that was apparent from the beginning.

“That’s what we discussed the very first time we sat down together,” Nowak said. However, he added that the two firms’ differences were also a key to the merger. “What they did a lot of, we did a little of, and vice versa. It really diversified our services.”

Client-driven growth

Mergers have been the avenue of growth for both firms throughout their history. In 1974, Phillips and Briggs Smith formed Smith Phillips, which provided a full range of legal services. In 1993, Paul Scott came on board when Smith Phillips merged with Wilroy Scott and Rutherford, a DeSoto County-based firm with a history that went back to the early 1900s.

Over the years, Smith Phillips Mitchell & Scott (the other principal in the firm is Colmon Mitchell) gained a national reputation for business and individual litigation, nationwide class actions, insurance litigation, eminent domain/land use litigation, serious personal injury and other civil litigation. Its list of local clients includes Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association, Dunlap & Kyle, First Security Bank and the City of Batesville.
Meanwhile, Nowak was building a reputation for representing public entities. Born and raised in Massachusetts, he came south straight out of law school and hired on with a Memphis firm in 1995. However, he soon met Bobby Chamberlin, now a Circuit Court judge and then affiliated with the Austin Law Firm of Hernando. He subsequently joined Chamberlin, and when Bill Austin retired, Chamberlin Nowak was formed.

When Chamberlin was appointed a judge in late 2005, Nowak formed Nowak & Neyman with Jody Neyman. Over this time, Nowak had gained a wealth of experience representing government entities. These include the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors, DeSoto County Convention & Visitors Bureau and DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department.

While their practice areas may have been different, Smith Phillips Scott & Mitchell and Nowak & Neyman both were feeling the crush of the growing region. Northwest Mississippi — from DeSoto County to Tunica, to Batesville, to Oxford — is one of the fastest-growing areas in the entire country. With the growing population came more businesses, and with that came the need for more and diverse services.

Thus, when Nowak sat down with Smith and Phillips, they were already singing the same song.

“This growth has been client driven,” Phillips said. “We have grown with the region.”

Today, Smith Phillips Mitchell Scott & Nowak consists of 12 attorneys and a large support staff spread between Batesville and Hernando. Its areas of practice include insurance litigation, business and governmental litigation, class actions, eminent domain, personal injury/wrongful death, defective products, casino litigation and consumer fraud.

Making room

With all the new faces due to the merger, Smith Phillips Mitchell Scott & Nowak have embarked on a major expansion and renovation of the Wilroy Building on the historic Hernando Square that houses the firm’s DeSoto County staff.

No one is quite sure just how old the Wilroy Building is. Paul Scott, a lifelong resident of DeSoto County, did some research and found that the building goes back to before 1927.

As often happens with historic preservation projects, surprises have been discovered. The renovation work includes an adjacent facility, and when the wall was knocked out so the two building could be connected, it was discovered that the Wilroy Building was actually two structures. It wasn’t the first discovery.

“Back in the late 1980s, we renovated the inside of the building,” Scott said. “It had dark paneling, green carpet — I just wanted to bring it up to date with maybe some sheetrock and track lighting.” But, Scott said when the paneling and carpet were stripped away, it revealed the original, beautiful material and craftsmanship, which was retained.

The Hernando staff of Smith Phillips Mitchell Scott & Nowak are currently working from the adjacent building while the project is underway. When completed, it will approximately double the space of the old office. The project is expected to wrap up late this year.

The renovation work is strictly on the interior, but Scott said future plans are for a facelift to the exterior, as well. A push is on to revitalize Hernando Square, to make it the hub of the city much as The Square in Oxford is there. He and Phillips said that the renovation work has drawn rave reviews from the community, and Scott added that when the exterior work is completed, he expects more positive response.

While Phillips is excited about the future of the new firm, he exhibits a deeper passion for the land and the people.

“When I’m riding through the region, where just about everyone connected with the firm was born and raised, and see all the growth and progress, it’s very satisfying. There’s a lot of satisfaction knowing this will be a better place for our children to live, and that we’re a part of it.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.


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