Stephen Dye and Thomas Harrison

Two Bradenton law firms whose founding families have been friendly competitors for nearly 100 years have merged, forming the new firm of Dye, Harrison, Kirkland, Petruff, Pratt & St. Paul. The combined firm now has 13 attorneys.

Stephen Dye, one of the former principals of legacy Dye, Deitrich, Petruff & St. Paul, said neither firm had been considering a merger. But his firm’s lease was up for renewal and he was considering options for new office space when he mentioned it at a local pub to longtime family friend Joseph Harrison, then a principal of legacy Harrison & Kirkland.

“He said why don’t you move in with us? It was about that flippant,” Dye said.

Although at that point the discussion was about remaining separate firms in the same building, the two firms decided over the course of subsequent weeks that they should merge. The combine 13-lawyer firm is one of the largest firms in Manatee County.

The new combined firm is based out of the old Manatee River Bank & Trust Company building, which was built in 1905. Harrison has actually been based there since 1991, and the Dye firm’s founder, Dewey A. Dye Sr., opened the firm’s first office in the same building in 1920.

Dewey Dye Jr.’s sons, Steve and Jim Dye, and the sons of Harrison & Kirkland founder George Harrison, Joe and Tom Harrison, will all work at Dye Harrison. The new firm’s management committee is made up of Stephen Dye, Tom Harrison, Chuck Pratt and Alix St. Paul.

Some of the two firms’ practice areas overlapped, but both had a practice area that the other firm didn’t have. The Dye firm had more depth in governmental and land use law, while Harrison had a litigation department.

When Dye’s grandfather Dewey A. Dye Sr. started the Dye firm in 1920, he took over the practice of retiring lawyer Chase Curry, who came from a family of turn-of-the-century ship salvagers, Dye said. Dye Sr. served as president of the Florida State Senate, State Attorney and the Manatee County Attorney. His son, Dewey A. Dye, Jr., joined him in 1949, and the firm became Dye & Dye.

William Thomas Harrison opened his own law firm in Manatee County in 1912 but later became a circuit court judge. A courtroom at the new Manatee County Judicial Center is named after him. His son George Harrison began practicing law in Bradenton in 1951 at Dye & Dye and eventually became a name partner of the firm that was Harrison & Kirkland’s predecessor.

“He was only a couple years younger than my father [Dewey A. Dye Jr.], so they were friends and grew up together and they both went to the University of Florida,” said Dye. “They probably drove back and forth together. Our families have been very tight through several generations. Everybody has known each other socially.”

Like Stephen Dye’s grandfather, George Harrison later served as the attorney for Manatee County. Decades after George Harrison got his start working for the Dye firm, one of Dewey Dye Sr.’s grandsons, James Dye, started his legal career at the Harrison firm before joining his own family’s firm.

Stephen Dye said one of the biggest challenges in combining the two old firms, aside from making the move the week after Hurricane Irma hit the area last month, has been going through century-old historical documents and memorabilia and deciding what to keep and what to give away, Dye said. The Dye firm had been in another building since 1983. Both firms owned their buildings until a few years ago when they sold and leased the property from the new owners.

Much had accumulated over the years.

“When my father got out of law school and joined his dad, he practiced until my grandfather passed and ended up with his stuff. I ended up with my father’s when he retired. No one ever took their stuff,” Dye said. “You’re left with all their documents, framed art, books, knicknacks, furniture. We’ve been donating things we don’t want to the local historical museums and libraries, but we still have a lot of fine looking old stuff that goes with the 1905 building. It would be a good movie set for a turn of the century law office.”