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Since 1975, the names Webb and Carlock have been synonymous with insurance defense in Georgia. But now the firm commonly called “Webb Carlock” no longer exists. On Thursday, name partner Dennis J. “Denny” Webb left Webb, Carlock, Copeland, Semler & Stair. He took three partners — William E. Zschunke, E. Alan Miller and Marvin D. Dikeman — with him and formed a new firm, Webb, Zschunke, Miller & Dikeman. The 48-lawyer Carlock firm will now be known as Carlock, Copeland, Semler & Stair. Webb says he’s also bringing former Webb Carlock associates Matthew T. Allen and Eric J. Sharon to the new firm. The firm “promptly” will add one or two more associates, he adds. As for the long term, Webb says, “the plan is to remain very small.” Webb, Zschunke, Miller and Dikeman all want to do plaintiffs’ work, they say. The large volume of insurance defense firm work done at Webb Carlock, they say, presented conflicts of interest for plaintiff-side work. “We had so many insurance clients,” says Webb. “I have turned down at least one good plaintiff’s case each month for the past several years. … We defend so many insurance companies that it caused a conflict of interest.” Miller adds that other conflicts are created by defending insurance companies that underwrite doctors accused of medical malpractice. “There’s an understanding that when you’re a defense firm,” he says, “insurance companies prefer defense counsel to be purely defense.” Dikeman adds, “We all have this interest that we’d like plaintiff’s work.” But at large firms that represent insurance companies, he says, “conflicts stop you at every turn.” Webb says he and Zschunke, Miller and Dikeman had their own discrete business at Webb Carlock. “We’ve always been called ‘the Webb team,’ ” he says, because all four worked together for the same clients. The Webb Carlock firm, Dikeman says, “never has really divided into practice groups.” He adds, “To the extent there was a separate practice group, it was ours.” BRINGING BACK THE FUN Though he calls himself “a defense man down to the soul,” Miller says he still wants to do some plaintiffs’ work at the new firm. And he says the four partners also wanted a smaller firm environment. “With a smaller shop, you know everyone you’re practicing with a lot better,” he says. “And it brings the fun back to it.” Dikeman, who started at Webb Carlock in 1998, says he was about the 15th lawyer to start there. Now that the Webb Carlock firm has grown, he says, “I liked that other way. I like seeing everybody in the lunchroom every day.” Zschunke, who has been with Webb Carlock since he graduated from law school in 1983, says making the switch was a “hard decision” for him. But while he concedes he wanted to work in a smaller law firm environment, he says he thinks the split will leave “a void in both [firms] for a while.” Among the clients that the four partners say they are taking to the new firm are: AIG Insurance Companies, Allstate Insurance Co., BP Amoco, Companion Property and Casualty, Food Lion Inc., Harleysville Insurance Co., and Southern Mutual Insurance Co. David F. Root, managing partner of Carlock, Copeland, Semler & Stair, says, “I don’t think it was unexpected.” He says the move is a “clean break” because the Webb team had functioned at Webb Carlock as a discrete entity. The departure was a natural evolution for the separate group, he says. “I think they will be happier to be in a firm where there are less administrative issues and a smaller environment,” Root says. Thomas S. Carlock, who says he’s been acquainted with Webb since he was known as “Spider Webb” at Atlanta’s Northside High School in the 1950s, co-founded the firm in 1970 with Webb and three other attorneys. Carlock says name partner departures haven’t affected the firm over the years. “When [former name partners] Don Fain left and Doug Dennis retired, none of that seemed to affect us,” he says. “I don’t expect any repercussions from anywhere.” Root says the departures don’t cause a “tremendous significance on business.” The firm is in a hiring mode and will remain that way, Root says. Webb has had several notable clients in his career as a plaintiffs’ lawyer. In 1999, Webb represented Michael Schafer in his suit against Time magazine for falsely identifying him in a photo as an international terrorist. The case was eventually settled. In 1989, Webb’s client Michael R. Vallone was denied court-appointed counsel, bond and a speedy trial. Although the charges were eventually dropped, he sued his former jailers, including then-Douglas County Sheriff Earl Lee for violating his civil rights. A federal jury awarded $200,000 to Vallone. Vallone v. Lee, 1:88-CV-1196-ODE (N.D. Ga. June 2, 1988).

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