Gainesville law firm Whelchel, Dunlap, Jarrard & Walker is closing its doors Sept. 30, after 137 years, the firm announced Thursday, July 30.
“The legacy and rich history of this firm … is deeply embedded in this community,” the firm said in a press release. “That will not change. We have had many exceptional lawyers practice with us all over all these many decades, some for their entire careers of 40 to 50 years.”
One of those with a long history is William A. Bagwell, 82, who began practicing with the firm in January 1964. He stopped being an equity partner some years ago, “but they asked me to stay on and work, and so I have.”
“It’s been a great firm,” he said. “It’s been a great experience for me. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve got a few matters that I’ll finish out even after the firm formally dissolves, but as soon as that is wound up, I’ll fully retire.”
Lucy Henry, a Whelchel, Dunlap, Jarrard & Walker partner, said the decision to close was made when “it became obvious that it would be very difficult to restore our business model of 12-18 full-time lawyers” in a variety of practice areas.
That “business model … served us well for many decades,” she said.
Henry said that from July 2019 to January 2020, the firm lost six lawyers. Also, “beloved partner” John Gram died in August 2019, and that was “a very painful loss to our group.”
“However, we were happy for our other colleagues who each left the firm for other, exciting professional opportunities.”
Still, “it became clear that 2020 would be a year in which we would need to make significant changes,” Henry said. “When the pandemic hit, we had five full-time and three semi-retired lawyers.”
As for her future, Henry plans to pursue a master’s degree in German with the possibility of teaching afterward.
“We are deeply proud of our firm,” she said, adding that the closing is “bittersweet and the end of an era, but also the beginning of a new and exciting chapter for all of us.”
Three of the firm’s lawyers -- Chris Walker, Madeline Wirt and Kas Lawson -- will join the Gainesville law firm of Hulsey, Oliver & Mahar, LLP.
“It has been enormously rewarding to be a part of this firm and to practice alongside some legal giants in this community,” Wirt said. “Those legal giants have mentored many a young lawyer who continue to practice all over Georgia. The ripple effect of this training is indeed profound.”
Walker said, “We look forward with great excitement to continuing relationships with our clients, our former partners, our former staff, and all of our friends as we transition to our new endeavors.”
David Dickerson, a partner who joined the firm in 2008, will open his own law office in Gainesville and focus on general and personal injury litigation.
“I was honored to join this firm in 2008, and it has been a privilege to work with extraordinary lawyers, who also happen to be extraordinary people,” Dickerson said. “The last 12 years have been an invaluable experience, and I feel well-equipped to begin this new endeavor.”
Long-time partner Edgar Dunlap will retire from the full-time practice of law after a career spanning more than four decades. The other lawyers are exploring opportunities, according to the release.