Boxes upon boxes of files now fill the offices inside the Whelchel, Dunlap, Jarrard & Walker LLP, as attorneys prepare to officially close the 137-year-old law firm's doors on Wednesday, Sept. 30.
While standing in the building’s “Dunlap room,” Chris Walker — partner and founding member of predecessor firm Carey, Jarrard & Walker LLP — reflected on his time helping build what he realizes now is a legacy of lawyers in North Georgia.
“There’s been a lot of lawyers that have practiced law here,” Walker said. “Some are still here, some are retiring, some have come and gone, but I think the legacy still lives out in the community with the lawyers who practiced law here and got trained here. We’ve always tried to give quality service to our clients, and we’re all sad that it’s coming to a close.”
When the law firms of Whelchel & Dunlap and Carey, Jarrard & Walker merged in 2007, Walker said the practice reached its highest capacity with around 16 attorneys. Over the past few years, he said six lawyers left for other endeavors, and two more announced their retirement.
Walker said the recent death of John Gram, one of their partners, also struck a heavy blow to all of those who worked at the firm.
“It seemed like in a year’s time we went from a big firm to a small firm,” he said. “We hate it (closing), but it seemed like the most reasonable thing to do.”
Three of the firm’s lawyers — Walker, Madeline Wirt and Kas Lawson — will join the Gainesville law firm of Hulsey, Oliver & Mahar LLP. Another partner, Lucy Henry, plans to pursue a master’s in German and possibly teach afterward.
Edgar Dunlap II, longtime partner and son of Bubba Dunlap, will retire from the full-time practice of law after a career spanning more than four decades. David Dickerson, a partner who joined the Gainesville firm in 2008, will open his own law office in the city and focus on general and personal injury litigation.
“I had the great fortune of working alongside lawyers who are widely recognized as some of the very best lawyers in the state,” Dickerson said. “I am excited about opening my own firm in Gainesville, and I will always be grateful for the experiences I had and the knowledge I gained during my 12 years at WDJW (Whelchel, Dunlap, Jarrard & Walker).”
- 1883: Sam Dunlap Sr. opens his own law practice
- 1902: The firm became a partnership when Sam Dunlap Jr. joined
- 1914: Edgar B. Dunlap, son of Sam Dunlap Sr., joined
- 1942: Edgar B. Dunlap’s cousin, Pinckney Whelchel, became a partner
- 1946: Edgar B. Dunlap’s son, James A. “Bubba” Dunlap started practicing at the firm after graduating from the University of Georgia School of Law
- 1949: William Gignilliat became associated with the firm
- 1960: Upon William Gignilliat’s promotion to partner in 1960, the firm name changed to Whelchel, Dunlap & Gignilliat
- Mid-1970s: Bubba Dunlap’s son, Edgar Dunlap II, joined the firm
- 1990: Carey, Jarrard & Walker formed when Jack Carey and Chris Walker joined forces with former Gov. Nathan Deal and Tom Jarrard
- 1992: Former Gov. Nathan Deal left Carey, Jarrard & Walker when elected to U.S. Congress
- Mid-1990s: Whelchel, Dunlap & Gignilliat reverted to Whelchel & Dunlap when William Gignilliat retired
- March 17, 2007: Tom Jarrard, one of the firm’s founding members, died after an extended illness. The practice kept his name in the new firm as a tribute to Tom Jarrard and his family.
- July 1, 2007: The law firms of Whelchel & Dunlap and Carey, Jarrard & Walker merged to create Whelchel, Dunlap, Jarrard & Walker
- Sept. 30, 2020: Whelchel, Dunlap, Jarrard & Walker officially closes
A force to be reckoned with
Johnny Vardeman, local history columnist and former editor of The Times, described Whelchel, Dunlap, Jarrard & Walker as a longstanding fixture in Hall County with a reputation throughout the Peach State.
“It was probably the best-known law firm in the county and North Georgia for so many years,” Vardeman said.
The Times’ archives, dating back to the early 1900s, have noted the journey of the firm’s founders from over the years.
Sam C. Dunlap Sr. was the first lawyer of the Dunlap family, opening his practice in 1883. His son Edgar B. Dunlap later joined in 1904 and was succeeded by his son Bubba Dunlap.
In 1903, Samuel C. Dunlap helped a South Carolina company locate property for the New Holland textile mill, according to a Times article from 1990. His son, Edgar B. Dunlap, was instrumental in persuading Johnson & Johnson Co. to locate a gauze mill in Gainesville, which resulted in the opening of Chicopee Mill in 1927.
Inside the firm’s “Dunlap room” lies memorabilia from Bubba Dunlap, who Walker remembers as “a mover and a shaker.”
Bubba Dunlap dropped out of law school at the University of Georgia to join the military during WWII, according to The Times’ archives. He served from 1942 to 1946 and fought in the Battle of the Bulge as a part of Gen. George Patton’s Third Army.
In an article from Aug. 19, 1990, The Times shined light on a few of Bubba Dunlap’s achievements in Hall. It explained that Bubba Dunlap was instrumental in starting Gainesville College, now a University of North Georgia campus; helping link Interstate 985 from Gainesville to the Atlanta metropolitan area; and establishing the Hall County Hospital, now known as the Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
“He was kind of quiet, but had a powerful presence about him,” Vardeman said when recounting his time with Bubba Dunlap. “You knew he was somebody influential after you talked with him for a few minutes. He kept up with things going on the in the community as well as the state.”
Supporting the community
In addition to running a successful law firm, the attorneys of Whelchel, Dunlap, Jarrard & Walker have spread their roots into the community, helping a myriad local organizations, churches and groups over the years. Some of the nonprofits they’ve served include Good News Clinics, Georgia Mountain Food Bank, Rahab’s Rope, The Medical Center Foundation and United Way of Hall County.
Diana Dokken, who has worked as the firm’s receptionist for the past nine years, said Whelchel, Dunlap, Jarrard & Walker has been the Georgia Legal Food Frenzy champions from 2016 to 2020, raising 170,821 meals. The competition is an annual two-week fundraiser created in partnership with the Georgia Attorney General, the State Bar and Young Lawyers Division, and the Georgia Food Bank Association.
One partner in particular, Gram, extended his support to Hall until his death in Aug. 2019.
He was a founding board member of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, as well as a past president and longtime board member at Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier and Challenged Child and Friends, now renamed Sisu.
Gram was also involved with the North Georgia Community Foundation and served as pro bono general counsel and board member at Good News Clinics.
“All of its members, not just the Dunlaps, have been very active in various civic organizations, churches and politics,” Vardeman said. “They’ve been quite an influence on the community.”