A Ridgeland law firm and a Gulf Coast law firm have merged into what both groups see as a winning combination for firm members and clients. Bryant, Dukes & Blakeslee, formed in Gulfport in the 1950s and now based in Biloxi, merged with Copeland, Cook, Taylor & Bush, P.A., and will operate under the latter name.
Tucker Mitchell, managing shareholder of the combined firm, says Copeland, Cook, Taylor & Bush was doing a substantial amount of work on the Coast and in Hattiesburg.
Thriving practice, loyal clients
“When the opportunity arose to merge practices with a firm that has been on the Coast for generations and has an office in Hattiesburg, it made perfect sense to establish a physical presence in both locations,” he said. “On the business side of the equation, Bryant, Dukes & Blakeslee had a thriving practice with a long list of loyal clients.”
Bryant, Dukes & Blakeslee desired to secure a more regional presence to offer clients services that it did not provide at the local level, according to the firm’s managing shareholder Bill Whitfield
“By combining our firms, the clients of Bryant, Dukes & Blakeslee and Copeland, Cook, Taylor & Bush will be able to benefit from a varied business and litigation practice that will improve the level of services to our clients in the entire State of Mississippi.”
He acknowledges that Hurricane Katrina was a factor in the firm’s decision to merge, as it has been in other legal and business decisions of the area. The 2005 storm destroyed Bryant, Dukes & Blakeslee’s building in downtown Gulfport. Since that time, the firm practiced in temporary rental offices and later moved into a new complex on DeBuys Road in Biloxi.
“Katrina is a part of our local history, but the overriding reason was to better serve our clients from a regional and statewide practice at a local level. With the merger of these firms, the legacy of Rae Bryant and Jimmy Dukes, founders of the firm, lives on through the passion of both firms for excellence and client satisfaction and success,” he added.
“Through their efforts, the firm grew to become one of the largest originating in South Mississippi. It focused its practice primarily on the litigation and administrative defense of business, government and the healthcare community, including workers’ compensation. The merger will strengthen our ability to provide those same services to our clients because it adds resources and opportunities that are somewhat limited in South Mississippi.”
Broadening the base
Mitchell adds that the merger broadens the collective client base which results in more financial security for attorneys and employees. “This was an opportunity neither group could pass up,” he said. “In Bryant, Dukes & Blakeslee we already knew they were excellent attorneys but learned early in the discussions they were the kind of people we wanted to practice law with. Fortunately, the feeling was mutual. Call it old fashioned, but the people side of the equation was very important to both groups.”
No additional areas of practice are being added but the combined practices offer more areas of specialty to clients that include litigation for businesses, insurance companies and the medical community; taxation; healthcare regulatory and transactions; bankruptcy; consumer transactions; estate planning; creditor rights; environmental; and complex commercial transactions.
“We are very diverse now as to practice areas and as a result can serve clients in almost any area,” he said. “As sub specialties continue to develop, we are always looking for attorneys who may have a niche in a particular type practice.”
The economic development taking place in Hattiesburg and on the Coast was also a factor in the decision of the two firms to merge. “I understand that nationally the economy is not good, and the same is true for many areas of our state,” Mitchell said. “However, when it comes to providing legal services, the local economies on the Coast and in Hattiesburg are good markets. We believe that better days are ahead for people and businesses in these areas.”
Now with offices in these two new locations, along with the existing offices in Ridgeland and Washington, D.C., Mitchell sees opportunities to serve clients better. “Our clients have already benefited from the efficiency of having multiple offices,” he said. “If the right opportunity presents itself to open offices in other locations, we will look at them closely.”
Copeland, Cook, Taylor & Bush was established in 1985 with eight attorneys and now has 77 attorneys.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.