By Charles Sowell  

APRIL 4, 2011 10:18 a.m. Comments (0)

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Greenville’s venerable Wyche law firm is taking new directions and expanding into areas undreamed of when Granville Wyche joined the firm in 1923.

Granville is the late father of Tommy Wyche, a managing partner at the firm, who has maintained office hours at 44 E. Camperdown Way since shortly after graduating from the University of Virginia Law School in 1949.

The Wyche firm has become a Greenville institution in the 90 years that the various partners have been practicing law. They did it the old fashioned way with good client service and by hiring the best minds they could find coming out of law school.

On April 12, the firm will hold a celebration of nine decades of legal practice; a combination homecoming for former attorneys and sort of birthday party to celebrate the service of Tommy Wyche, who is soon to celebrate his  85th birthday, and Jim “Poss” Parham, who has been with the firm for 50 years.

The firm also plans to announce a new name and flesh out some of the new directions they plan to take going into the heart of the 21st Century.

Part of that new direction, said Wallace Lightsey, chair of the firm’s executive committee is in representing high-tech and green startup companies that are flocking to the Greenville area.

The move dovetails nicely with the Wyche firm’s long-time commitment to environmental issues, he said, and opens up areas of business that just didn’t exist when Lightsey first moved to Greenville in the 1980s.

“We think that is where the most growth will come in the coming years,” he said. “We will offer startups legal services, help them find financing and help them get off to a good start.”

Tommy Wyche founded Naturaland Trust in 1973 and in the decades since has helped to preserve thousands of acres along the Blue Ridge Escarpment. He is also the author of five picture books on the natural world.

In addition to their bread and butter practice, Wyche attorneys do a great deal of pro bono work in their various areas of interest, Lightsey said. “We intend to continue that tradition.”

The Wyche building, seen from the street at one end of the Liberty Bridge seems to be a small, low-slung affair. Seen from the river it is a three-story monolith.

From his office on the bottom floor, Lightsey has seen tremendous changes for the legal business and for Greenville. “Some of our attorneys jokingly refer to the bottom floor as the dungeon,” Lightsey said. “I prefer to think of it as the base of our firm.”

“I remember when PowerPoint first started being used by attorneys,” he said. “Frankly, I was scared to death of it.”

Now the firm has hired a technical director to keep the firm’s 33 attorneys up to date on the latest advances. Wyche has also hired a marketing director to keep the firm’s profile before potential clients.

For the first time none of the partners listed on the firm’s long-time nameplate (Wyche Burgess Freeman & Parham) are on the executive committee that runs the law firm. “This is the first time that I can remember that most of the committee members are under 50,” Lightsey said.

The new committee members are: Lightsey, 53; Marshall Winn, 57; Greg English, 43; John Moylan, 49; and Melinda Davis Lux 36.

Some of the old guard moved on to start practices on their own or in partnership with other attorneys. Long-time Wyche attorney David Freeman is gone as is Carl Muller.

“That’s just part of the legal business,” Lightsey said. “People move on to other areas of interest.”

One of the things that makes the firm special, Lightsey said, is that the attorneys who have moved on often maintain a relationship with Wyche.

Wyche consistently shows up on best law firm lists and at one time was ranked in the top 10 small law firms in the country.  “It still is, last time I saw a survey,” Lightsey said.

For a small firm trying to compete against heavyweights for talent on a national level, Wyche is helped tremendously by the quality of downtown Greenville.

“During the depths of the recession, we were still hiring,” Lightsey said. “That says a lot about our quality of service.”

The firm has added a small office in Columbia and has an attorney on staff in Charleston.

“We don’t feel that a client should have to pay for dozens of lawyers to get the best service,” Lightsey said. “Our approach is more focused than some of the larger firms.”

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