Ten Attorneys will Leave Memphis Firm for Boutique Practice

The 2012 merger bolstered Wyatt’s estate planning section, making it one of the largest regional estate planning practices in the country. At the time, Williams McDaniel wanted to provide a wider range of legal services to its clients, as well as have succession planning in place.

“The thought process was having a place where there could be continuation of the practice should I retire or die,” McDaniel said.

With the reformation of Williams McDaniel, Wyatt lost eight estate planning, estate trust, administration and estate trust litigation or probate lawyers, as well as two corporate commercial real estate and commercial lending lawyers.

“While the four years within a larger law firm obviously had benefits, we as a group concluded we could best serve our clients — who are generally families — in a small, boutique-sort of firm that really gets us back to the type of environment we had for decades,” McDaniel said.

Williams McDaniel was founded in the late 1960s by Bob T. Williams, a preeminent real estate closing attorney, and partner Bob Benham, who went on to become Shelby County probate judge. The firm ultimately evolved into Williams McDaniel about 15 years ago.

McDaniel refers to the firm’s attorneys as family.

“By that, I mean about half or more I taught as law students over the years,” he said.

McDaniel has taught in some capacity at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in excess of 20 years and, over the years, has hired more than half a dozen of his former students.

Edward T. Autry is the former law student who has been practicing estate law with McDaniel the longest — going on 21 years.

“What it means to me is to get back to where we started, which was a small, family-oriented firm. We care deeply about each other, our clients and the services we provide," Autry said. "We feel we are better equipped to do that in a small environment.”

McDaniel said he has the utmost respect for the people in Wyatt’s Memphis office, but as a big law firm, by necessity, they must operate differently than a small firm.

While the attorneys of Williams McDaniel are estate trust technicians, they are also family counselors.

“In estate administration, we’re often dealing with a spouse or children who had a husband or wife to die or a parent to die, and the frustrations of resolving financial issues can be very high,” McDaniel said.

The 10 attorneys who left include five Estate Planning Law Specialists certified by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils, an American Bar Association-approved entity.

There are about 25 estate planning specialists in Tennessee, and Williams McDaniel has five of them.

“Any success that I or this law firm has had is my being able to surround myself with what may be the finest group of lawyers in this city in this particular field,” McDaniel said.

His former students turned employees also share great respect for McDaniel and his decision to return to an independent firm.

“He’s mentored all of us and if we could emulate him in any respect, we’d all be lucky,” Autry said.

Williams McDaniel signed a lease for about 5,500 square feet in the former Iberia Bank location at 717 S. White Station Road. The firm plans to turn the former drive-thru into a patio.

Farmhouse Marketing designed the logo, website and a sign that went up Tuesday night.