Neill Bryant followed a unique path into real estate law from a job as a petroleum landman working on an oil company’s bankruptcy case. A native of Jones County, Mississippi, Neill studied at Jones County Junior College before transferring to Mississippi College, where he received a B.S. in political science in 2003. He then earned an M.A. in theology from Reformed Theological Seminary, followed by a J.D. from Mississippi College School of Law in 2010. As the country was still recovering from the 2008 recession, law firms were not hiring at that time. Fortunately, “six months in rural courthouses learning how to check title from older, local attorneys who were very gracious to me” gave Neill a solid foundation and made him a “dirt lawyer, first and foremost.”
After a stint working for John Underwood doing everything from closings to curative work for title insurance claims to representing lenders in bankruptcy court, Neill took the opportunity to make a move to Wells Moore to focus on commercial real estate. Now a member of Watkins & Eager PLLC, a firm established in 1895 and “full of wonderful people whom I’ve grown to love and appreciate,” his practice primarily involves commercial projects as well as agricultural and recreational properties along with zoning, title curative work, and construction. “I don’t know what I would do without my partners who specialize in environmental, litigation, government relations, even OSHA, etc.,” Neill concludes. “And they are always ready to help me, just as I am always there to help them on real estate matters.”
From his office in downtown Jackson, Neill sees a great advantage to being walking distance from state agency offices and in close proximity to so many other downtown firms. He appreciates the many chances to build relationships by walking to lunch at local restaurants where he runs into lawyers from other firms. Having positive connections with lawyers from around the state is important to Neill, and those connections are often made through the Real Estate Section of the Bar’s listserv. “While I watch my litigation partners often fighting with opposing counsel, “he says, “in transactional practice we’re really all pulling in the same direction. . . . I’m generally working with the same lawyers over and over, and we’ve built friendships and trust.”
One of Neill’s most memorable closings involved three brothers who were selling a very valuable piece of agricultural land to his client. One was deceased, and his obituary included a photo of him wearing a doo-rag. The other two brothers showed up for the sale in overalls with very long beards. “When they left, they told me they were going straight to the Ford dealership to buy new trucks and then to Bass Pro Shop to buy new boats,” Neill remembers.
Neill has been married for 15 years to his wife, Sally, who he calls “the love of my life” and “my rock.” She is a preschool Sunday School teacher and a homeschooling mom to their two “hard-headed but gifted and precious sons,” who are 13 and 8. Neill is also very close to his three brothers, who all live in the Jackson metro area. He does not have much time for hobbies, as he is an ordained minister in the Reformed Episcopal Church, a jurisdiction within the Anglican Church in North America, serving at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Flowood. He does, however, “love to fish (inshore saltwater) and go to my family’s place at South Padres Island, Texas, as much as possible.” In what little free time he has, Neill reads the Church Fathers, medieval Christian Platonist writings, and British ecclesiastical history. He is also a self-proclaimed “gun nut” and diehard Saints fan, “even when I have to get my paper bag out.”