For the past 17 years a handful of local attorneys has been working in Lafayette to build a solid clientele for the regional law firm Jones Walker, primarily focusing on oil and gas litigation. After the 2005 hurricanes, however, the explosion of growth in Lafayette piqued the regional firm’s interest in the local market, and it began exploring merger opportunities. On Jan. 1 those efforts officially come to fruition as the respected brand, founded in New Orleans in 1937, will merge with Longman Russo, the Lafayette-based firm originally started as Perret Doise in 1987.

With the loss of original partners Hank Perret and Dennis Doise within a month of each other in early 2007 — Perret leaving to serve as in-house counsel for Dynamic Industries and Doise moving in-house at River Ranch (though remaining of counsel at his former firm) — Longman Russo benefits from the leadership and stability of Jones Walker, along with offering clients the resources of a firm with 12 offices in five states and the District of Columbia. And the three-attorney Jones Walker Lafayette office swells to about 18, joining Louisiana-based regional firms like Liskow & Lewis and Gordon Arata that have a major presence in the Acadiana market.

The key players in the newly-constituted firm are Doug Longman and Gary Russo, part of the five-attorney team that left the Onebane Firm in the mid-1980s, along with River Ranch developer Robert Daigle, to start Perret Doise. “It gives us a level and full range of services to our clients we just couldn’t provide ... complicated merger and acquisition transactions, some areas of corporate securities or anti-trust,” says Russo. “You have to go to New Orleans or Houston at best.”

The two firms have been in talks for years, working together and sharing some overlap in client representation — namely AT&T — all the while determining whether their personalities and cultures were a good fit. “We went through a fairly long courtship,” Russo says.

Four of Longman Russo’s attorneys have decided not to be a part of the merger and are striking out on their own, Russo adds, though declining to name the group. “We haven’t announced it yet,” he continues, explaining that the firm is still in the process of contacting clients to explain what’s happening.

On the Jones Walker side, the merger means Crowley native Charles Landry, who lives in Baton Rouge but has been spending a couple of days a week at his River Ranch office as part of a traditional neighborhood consulting team with Daigle and architect Steve Oubre, will be more focused on the Lafayette firm. Karen Ancelet, Norman Anseman III and Olivia Regard are the three Jones Walker attorneys now working out of the Lafayette office.

Landry grew up in Lafayette and went to work for Jones Walker 12 years ago as the result of a merger. “It’s a comparable example of what we did in Baton Rouge that was wildly successful,” Landry says of the recent transaction, explaining that the Baton Rouge firm has grown from 17 attorneys to 60 in that time. Additionally, the Longman Russo transaction comes on the heels of a similar combination with a firm in Atlanta. “We’ve actually been more successful identifying firms in a market and merging with them,” Landry says.

Landry’s TND consulting work over the past couple of years — he has drafted most of the TND ordinances in the state, including Lafayette’s — led him to lease a home in River Ranch and open an office there. He graduated from Cathedral and says he’s always hoped to return to Lafayette.

Through sophisticated video conferencing, Jones Walker’s Acadiana clients will have access to the firm’s more than 275 attorneys, who will be able to give “hands-on, personal advice,” from any of its 12 offices, Landry says.

The attorney notes that the Lafayette practice will now be highly visible and engaged in the community. In the interim, the local Jones Walker firm will be housed in Longman Russo’s Chase Tower offices on Jefferson Street, but the firm has not yet finalized plans for its permanent location. Though the merger is not official till the first of the year, Jones Walker — which was previously housed on Dover Boulevard — has already moved downtown. “We’re looking at all kinds of options [for permanent office space],” Landry says.

TIGER LILY CALLING IT QUITS

The 6-year-old women’s clothing boutique Tiger Lily is closing its doors. After the recent birth of her son, Eli, owner Julie Underwood had attempted to sell the Oil Center store, but the sale fell through. “I felt that I owed it to my family to be more engaged and available to the ever-present demands of a family with six children,” Underwood says. “It is time for me and my family to appreciate this brief and wonderful window that we have the chance to share.”

A liquidation sale has been under way. Underwood plans to close the store Nov. 1

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