Jan. 1, 1970: Richard Nixon sat in the White House; B.J. Thomas sang about raindrops falling on heads; and David Merline Sr. opened a single-attorney practice in Greenville. The raindrops dried up, and the public knows how Nixon’s second term ended. As for the law firm? It’s become a mainstay in the community, and this month, Merline & Meacham P.A. celebrates 50 years of legal service.
“My dad was just a very natural person,” says only son, Dave Merline Jr. “He was very concerned with being fair, being kind and treating everyone with respect. That’s how he lived and we just continue to try to do that every day.”
Merline Sr. grew the firm from a small office in the Daniel building to a three-generation operation, handling business law, estate planning and tax work for more than 10,000 clients. As a boy, Merline Jr. recalls tagging along with his dad downtown.
“We’d swing by his office after church and he’d say, ‘I just need to do one thing,’” the second-generation barrister says. “It would turn out to be two hours. It was very personal work. He was helping people and people seemed to appreciate it.”
No internet; no TV ads; no word-processing programs: The firm grew with hard work, using shorthand and a long list referrals.
“There wasn’t a big business strategy,” Merline Jr. says. “He developed a deep relationship with a lot of clients. He loved what he did. He helped people and he was sincere about it. I always knew I wanted to do that. I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer.”
Second generation growth
Son joined father in 1984 and Keith Meacham came on board a few years later, adding to the company name. But it’s the names of clients that would read like a who’s who of Greenville, if attorney-client privilege didn’t prohibit release. When asked about the impact their professional work has had on the community, Merline Jr. initially sits silent with humility. Only when pressed does he admit their clients have left fingerprints everywhere, in many different ways.
“The community has benefitted from our estate planning, gifts that our clients have made,” he says. “In one case, we created a foundation, a private charity for one family decades ago, and they funded it. It gives hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to various charities. It’s a living, breathing thing.”
Employees’ volunteer efforts have also molded the landscape. M&M attorneys have led and guided dozens of institutions within the industry, including the South Carolina Bar Association, the South Carolina Supreme Court’s Commission on Continuing Legal Education and Specialization, and The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. Their leadership and legal acumen have extended into other sectors as well, serving groups that include the Clemson University Foundation, South Carolina Mental Health Association and Rotary Club of Greenville, in addition to boards of directors with the St. Francis Foundation, Greenville Hospital System Foundation, Community Foundation of Greenville and Meals on Wheels.
By 1995, the firm’s 25th anniversary, more attorneys had joined the staff, including current shareholder Bob August.
“They had a stellar reputation,” the University of South Carolina School of Law graduate says. “My professors said it was the best firm in the state and if you can get them to even talk to you, jump on it. We have a good working atmosphere, good management style and long-term view of things, with clients who are loyal to us.”
Today, Merline & Meacham offices in Greenville and Columbia house just under 20 employees. The firm’s five shareholders like to hire young talent who will stick around.
“We hire with the intent of you staying,” Merline Jr. says “We heavily mentor. We heavily groom. I think we are the largest collection of tax and estate-planning attorneys of any firm in our state.”
That grooming includes adapting to ever-changing technology and tax laws.
“Over time, certain areas of law have shrunk and certain areas have grown. So, we have,” Merline Jr. says. “Another thing that’s changed: Everything is faster now. Everything is more complicated. It’s no longer snail mail; it’s an email or text. You have to be more responsive.”
Leading the way with new ideas is third-generation attorney, Andy Merline, who joined the firm four years ago.
“I can recall 20 times asking my granddad, ‘What do you do all day?’” says the youngest Merline. “He’d say, ‘Well, I answer the phone and read a lot.’ Now, I answer the phone and read a lot!”
To better reach Andy’s age group, Merline & Meacham has recently created a social media presence, and is updating its website, while maintaining the quality that’s secured success across half a century. More than 80% of new business comes from referrals from pleased clients, other attorneys and outside companies.
“It’s very much problem solving,” says the young attorney. “Everything’s unique. There’s always 100 fires to put out, and you only have time to do one. But it comes together really well, and I’m extremely happy and appreciate it.”
His father says collaboration is the mid-size firm’s culture, and he knows he’s passing the legal pad in the right direction.
“I told my son you can’t be average,” Merline Jr. says. “You have to work harder and be better so that people will appreciate what you did to get here. He’s doing that.”
Together, father and son hope to continue to build what Merline Sr. started 50 years ago.
“My Dad got brain cancer and passed a few years ago,” Merline Jr. says. “But he kept working until he couldn’t work anymore. He’d be working today if he didn’t get sick. He loved what he did… and so do I.”
812 E. North St.
Greenville, S.C. 29601