Wednesday, September 1, 2021
As this last year and a half has shown, life can be unpredictable. When circumstances lead you to require legal assistance, though, the Jackson Free Press does its part to make the road to your goals a little easier to navigate through our Best of Jackson: Legal pop-up ballot. Below, we have listed the winners and finalists of this year’s awards, as voted by you.
Best Personal Injury Attorney; Best Local Law Firm: Richard Schwartz, Richard Schwartz & Associates
(162 E. Amite St., 601-859-0696, 1call.ms)
Richard Schwartz’ “one call, that’s all” slogan has become a household jingle in Mississippi, but Schwartz insists that his firm’s relationship with clients reaches far deeper than a memorable catchphrase. “I want every client to know that they’re now part of a bigger family, the Schwartz family,” he says.
That “Schwartz family” now comprises more than 130 staff members, who Schwartz says prioritize their communities through their work with local charities, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Mississippi and the Mississippi Food Network.
“I encourage people to participate in charitable events, and I pay them to participate in charitable events during working hours,” Schwartz remarks. “My firm is set up to help people, and they know we make a difference.”
For the last three decades, Richard Schwartz and Associates has expanded its flagship practice in Jackson to assist those in need across the state.
“I was raised in Jackson, and I’ve been a supporter of the whole state for as long as I can remember,” Schwartz says. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to do the right thing as a Mississippian to help move the state forward. … I’m very proud that we are one of the law firms that give back to the community.”
Best Personal Injury Attorney Finalists: Adam D. Woods (Woods Law Firm, 202 E. Government St., Brandon, 601-706-9757, adamwoodslaw.com) / Darryl M. Gibbs (Chhabra & Gibbs, 120 N. Congress St., Suite 200, 601-948-8005, cglawms.com) / Matt Burch (Burch Law Firm, 405 Tombigbee St., 601-790-0175, burchlawfirmpllc.com) / Ray L. Gustavis (Chhabra & Gibbs, 120 N. Congress St., Suite 200, 601-948-8005, cglawms.com) / Rocky Wilkins (Morgan & Morgan, 4450 Old Canton Road, Suite 200, 601-949-3388, forthepeople.com) / Rogen K. Chhabra (Chhabra & Gibbs, 120 N. Congress St., Suite 200, 601-948-8005, cglawms.com)
Best Local Law Firm Finalists: Chhabra & Gibbs (120 N. Congress St., Suite 200, 601-948-8005, cglawms.com) / Donahoo Law Firm (732 Magnolia St., Madison, 601-213-0883, donahoolawfirm.com) / Kyle Wynn & Associates (7720 Old Canton Road, Suite B, Madison; 800-839-7857 or 601-978-1700; kyle-wynn.com) / The Rollins Law Firm (multiple locations, 601-533-1672, therollinsfirm.com)
Best Bankruptcy Attorney: Kimberly S. Sweeney-Oviasogie
(The Law Office of Kimberly S. Sweeney, 360 Comet Drive, Suite F2, 769-823-3733, sweeneylawoffice.net)
Between her pair of law practices in Gulfport and Jackson, Kimberly Sweeney-Oviasogie is well-acquainted with the world of bankruptcy law, which she says is rife with those taking a focus on “immediate relief.” Her firm, however, tries a different approach.
“We care about the aftermath of what happens to our clients,” she says. “We focus on how not to end up back in the same situation, and we provide education on how to make better decisions.”
To accomplish this goal of preventing her bankruptcy clients from returning to her practice to file a second time, Sweeney-Oviasogie prioritizes making efforts to get to know her clients more personally.
“A lot of bankruptcy law is about the numbers, but I’m interested in the personality of the client and how the numbers got to where they are,” she states.
“Most people think they were either irresponsible or took on unnecessary debt, but they may have gotten (to this point) because of health struggles or life changes. Some people need to start completely over, and they need to talk to someone to put them at ease.”
Finalists: Eileen Shaffer (401 E. Capitol St., Suite 316, 601-969-3006) / Frank Coxwell (Coxwell Attorneys, 1675 Lakeland Drive, 601-948-4450, mississippibankruptcyhelp.com) / Joe Tatum (Tatum and Wade, 124 E. Amite St., 601-948-7770, tatumandwadepllc.com) / T.C. Rollins (The Rollins Law Firm, multiple locations, 601-533-1672, therollinsfirm.com) / Wes Stover (The Law Offices of Wes Stover, 403 State St., 601-949-5000, wesstover.com)
Best Tax Attorney: Ashley N. Wicks
(Butler Snow; 1020 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 1400, Ridgeland; 601-948-5711; butlersnow.com)
During Ashley Wicks’s tenure as president of the Magnolia Bar Association, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was murdered in Florida, defining Wicks’ leadership of the group of Black attorneys, who began serving their communities with renewed energy. “We did expungement clinics, and we held different types of town halls to make sure that people understood what their rights were,” Wicks recalls. “It was a really good experience.”
Wicks’ journey to the top of her field was a long one, as she first earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting from Jackson State University before later passing the exam to become a certified public accountant. “I always had an interest in law, though,” Wicks says of her eventual pathway to her present profession, which she discovered through her work with community development projects in law school.
Now an attorney at Butler Snow, Wicks calls her work “community-centric,” as she and her firm work to create jobs, provide safe learning environments for students, and partner with food banks to improve life for citizens across the Jackson metropolitan area.
Finalists: Alexis Farmer (Farmer Law Office, 601-706-9346) / Charles Goldberg (Baker Donelson, 100 Vision Drive, Suite 400, 601-351-2400) / Dustin Jeffords (Capital Preservation Services; 213 Katherine Drive, Suite A, Flowood; cpsllcms.com) / R. David Marchetti (Wells Marble & Hurst; 300 Concourse Blvd., Suite 200, Ridgeland; 601-605-6900; wellsmarble.com)
Best Estate Planning Attorney: Teresa E. Harvey
(Chhabra & Gibbs, 120 N. Congress St., Suite 200, 601-948-8005, cglawms.com)
Teresa Harvey’s initial foray into the legal world was in estate law, and although she says that she’s “strayed” a few times over her 20 years in practice, she’s always returned to the field. “I really like doing it. You get to help people more than you do in other types of litigation,” she asserts.
Clients who have experienced the death of a loved one may find this claim especially true, as estate law often deals with property, assets and funds that are left behind when someone passes away. “It’s good to help them through that process,” Harvey remarks, noting that she always tries to keep sight of the fact that her clients are often grieving.
As evidence of the dedication and commitment Harvey places into each case, this year marks the fourth time that Harvey has taken home a “Best of Jackson” title, which she called a “huge honor” when she learned she was finalist.
“It means my clients appreciate the work I have done and continue to do for them,” she says.
Finalists: Dustin Jeffords (Capital Preservation Services; 213 Katherine Drive, Suite A, Flowood; cpsllcms.com) / Price Donahoo (Donahoo Law Firm, 732 Magnolia St., Madison, 601-213-0883, donahoolawfirm.com) / R. Kelly Kyle (Kyle Wynn & Associates; 7720 Old Canton Road, Suite B, Madison; 800-839-7857 or 601-978-1700; kyle-wynn.com) / Ronnie Morton (Morton Law Firm, 402 E. Main St., Clinton, 601-925-9797, mortonelderlaw.com) Samantha R. Moore (Butler Snow; 1020 Highland Colony Parkway, Suite 1400, Ridgeland; 601-948-5711; butlersnow.com)
Best Local Lawyer: Raynetra L. Gustavis
(Chhabra & Gibbs, 120 N. Congress St., Suite 200, 601-948-8005, cglawms.com)
When Raynetra “Ray” Gustavis was young, her family persistently predicted that she would become a lawyer. Gustavis refuted those claims at every turn, attending the Mississippi School of the Arts before majoring in music at Jackson State University. Eventually, though, Gustavis says her dreams of becoming a singer fizzled out. “It takes so much of you to do that,” she remarks. “I wanted to transition to something I loved to do but didn’t have to do.”
Law seemed to be the perfect fit for such a career change, and the Hazlehurst native says that her upbringing and her community’s early dreams of her “someday” law career inspires the work she now does daily at Chhabra and Gibbs. “Practicing law in Mississippi is 100% about knowing the people,” Gustavis reflects.
Finalists: Darryl M. Gibbs (Chhabra & Gibbs, 120 N. Congress St., Suite 200, 601-948-8005, cglawms.com) / Dorsey Carson (The Carson Law Group, 125 S. Congress St., Suite 1336, 601-351-9831, thecarsonlawgroup.com) / Price Donahoo (Donahoo Law Firm, 732 Magnolia St., Madison, 601-213-0883, donahoolawfirm.com) / R. Kelly Kyle (Kyle Wynn & Associates; 7720 Old Canton Road, Suite B, Madison; 800-839-7857 or 601-978-1700; kyle-wynn.com) / Richard Schwartz (Richard Schwartz & Associates, 162 E. Amite St., 601-859-0696, 1call.ms) / T.C. Rollins (The Rollins Law Firm, multiple locations, 601-533-1672, therollinsfirm.com) / Rogen K. Chhabra (Chhabra & Gibbs, 120 N. Congress St., Suite 200, 601-948-8005, cglawms.com)
Best Family Law Attorney: Matthew Thompson
(Thompson Addison, 2060 Main St., Madison, 601-850-8000, thompsonaddison.com)
Matthew Thompson left quite the impression on his professors at the Mississippi College School of Law, as they invited him to teach at the college when a position became available in 2013.
“My name was the name in common on everybody’s list,” Thompson recalls. He believes that his now-colleagues’ belief in him has paid dividends, saying that it’s rewarding to work with young legal scholars.
“They all want to be lawyers, and they’re all professionals,” Thompson states. “I end up becoming close with some of them.”
When he isn’t teaching classes to second- and third-year law students or working at his practice, Thompson donates his time to the Mississippi Center for Legal Services and the Volunteer Lawyers project, where he previously served as a board member.
“A lot of their clients want or need divorces, so we do that for low-income families who otherwise couldn’t afford a lawyer,” he says. Thompson procures these pro-bono attorneys, soliciting services from his fellow Bar members and training them on family law.
Finalists: Debbie Allen (Allen & Conway, 812 N. President St., 601-353-0001, allenandconway.com) / Jeremy McNinch (McNinch Law Firm; 503 Avalon Way, Suite A, Brandon; 601-519-4692; mcninchlaw.com) / Teresa E. Harvey (Chhabra & Gibbs, 120 N. Congress St., Suite 200, 601-948-8005, cglawms.com)
Best Real Estate Attorney: Shannon Elliott
(Elliott Law Firm; 2151 Highway 18, Brandon, 601-591-2713; 742 Magnolia St., Suite D, Madison, 601-499-0460; 115 Laurel Park Cove, Flowood, 601-487-4400; elliottlawfirmpllc.com)
After stepping away from the legal profession for a year to raise her first child, Shannon Sojourner Elliot re-entered the field in grand style, opening Elliott Law Firm in Brandon with her husband, John. While Elliott initially planned to work only part-time, the fast-paced world of commercial and residential real estate beckoned her to come back on board full-time.
Over the next 17 years, Elliott would open two more offices, one in Madison and another in Flowood. Together, the three firms employ four attorneys and a support staff of 20 to manage clients’ legal needs for real-estate transactions, including mortgages, title documents and purchase agreements, in addition to closings. Hometown Magazines named her as the best attorney in Rankin County two years in a row, recognizing her for her dedication to the field. Mid-South Super Lawyers also recognized Elliott as a “rising star” in 2011.
Finalists: Jay Cooke (1437 Old Square Road, Suite 106, 601-981-1912) / Johanna L. Jumper (Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, 188 E. Capitol St., Suite 450, 601-948-8000, bradley.com) / R. Cratin Luckett Jr. (Luckett Land Title Inc; 10 Lakeland Circle, 601-414-4141; 217 Commerce Drive, Brandon, 601-414-0114; 2084 Main St., Suite 100, Madison, 601-898-2107; landclosings.com) / R. Kelly Kyle (Kyle Wynn & Associates; 7720 Old Canton Road, Suite B, Madison; 800-839-7857 or 601-978-1700; kyle-wynn.com)
Best Defense Attorney: Dennis C. Sweet III
(Sweet & Associates, 158 E. Pascagoula St., 601-965-8700, sweetandassociates.net)
When Dennis Sweet was growing up in Jackson, he always admired the man who lived two houses down: Medgar Evers, who would be gunned down in his carport when Sweet was only 8 years old. “Mr. Evers made it known how important it was for African Americans to become attorneys,” Sweet recalls. “That helped inspire me. He was a great man.”
Never forgetting his mentor’s lessons, Sweet worked for the public defenders’ office in Washington, D.C., and for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., before his sister persuaded him to move back to the Magnolia State. “It was home,” Sweet says of his ultimate return. “I started practicing and never left.”
Sweet hopes that the work he’s done since moving back to the area will inspire local youth, whom he hopes will take notice of his steadfast care for underserved communities in Jackson. “They see me on TV,” Sweet reflects. “They see an African American man going in and defending people, and I think that’s good, as a role model.”
Finalists: Darryl M. Gibbs (Chhabra & Gibbs, 120 N. Congress St., Suite 200, 601-948-8005, cglawms.com) / Marshall J. Goff (Chhabra & Gibbs, 120 N. Congress St., Suite 200, 601-948-8005, cglawms.com) / Rogen K. Chhabra (Chhabra & Gibbs, 120 N. Congress St., Suite 200, 601-948-8005, cglawms.com)
Best Business and Start-Up Attorney: Lindsay K. Roberts
(The Carson Law Group, 125 S. Congress St., Suite 1336, 601-351-9831, thecarsonlawgroup.com)
During her time as a student at the Mississippi College School of Law, Lindsay K. Roberts presented oral arguments to a group of justices from across the country as part of Mississippi’s bicentennial celebration.
One of the justices in attendance was Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it was incredibly intimidating,” Roberts says of her brush with the highest court in the land. “One of the things I took away from the experience is that (Justice Roberts) wasn’t arrogant about his position. He was gracious and kind, and it taught me a lot about humility.”
Roberts took that lesson with her into the world of business law, where she says she sees companies at either their lowest or their highest points. “We see them when they’re creating a deal with a new company or when a deal has gone wrong, so they need help,” Roberts reflects. “Businesses are made up of people, and they’re people’s livelihoods.”
Small businesses make up a large portion of her clientele, and Roberts says that supporting them and helping them maintain their livelihoods is especially meaningful and rewarding for her.
Finalists: David Humphreys (The Carson Law Group, 125 S. Congress St., Suite 1336, 601-351-9831, thecarsonlawgroup.com) / Paul Rogers (567-B, 2600, Highway 51, Ridgeland; 601-969-7777; paulerogers.com) / Price Donahoo (Donahoo Law Firm, 732 Magnolia St., Madison, 601-213-0883, donahoolawfirm.com)