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John Murphy

Shook, Hardy & Bacon

murphy-johnIn his 15 years as chair of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, John Murphy helped steer the Kansas City firm through turbulent waters.

Murphy was in the midst of transitioning into firm leadership when the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks occurred and fully took on the role the following year.

“On Jan. 1, 2002, a lot of people had questions about where we were going in terms of economic recovery,” Murphy said.

Murphy continued at the helm as it weathered the Great Recession.

He said in the midst of the recession, many firms were faced with hard decisions, including laying off staff, freezing salaries and delaying associate classes.

“We made the decision as a partnership we were successful because of all the people in the firm,” he said. “We didn’t have layoffs, we didn’t freeze wages, we didn’t cancel start dates for associates. We did business as usual.”

He said that decision helped to position Shook as it moved forward.

“Those challenges keep you alive,” he said. “In terms of what you’re doing, there was never a time when you could become complacent because the one constant through that whole period was change.”

He said what has also helped the firm succeed is that it “sticks to its knitting” — firm leaders know its strengths and emphasize them.

“We’ve always taken the position at Shook that what we wanted to be was the best in the world in providing creative and practical solutions in the area of litigation,” he said.

The end of 2016 signaled the end of Murphy’s leadership of the firm. He is succeeded by Madeleine McDonough, the firm’s first female chair.

He will return to full-time practice with the firm. His practices include product liability, food and beverage litigation and automotive litigation.

He said three aspects stand out to him from his leadership of the firm. They include the firm’s move away from the billable hour, a stronger emphasis on diversity and a focus on cybersecurity and protecting clients’ data.

Murphy said a priority of his has been to have a thoughtful mindset toward the firm’s growth. He said he has turned away some opportunities to add attorneys because it didn’t make strategic sense.

Over his 15 years, the firm opened five new offices. Three have opened in the last five years.

He thought back to his beginning with the firm in 1979, when it had 49 attorneys. He said it was a place where he could do quality work with friends.

Today, the firm has nearly 500 attorneys. He said he is most proud of how the firm has expanded in his 37 years there, but maintained that environment.

“Through the efforts of a lot of people, this is still a place where I can come in the morning, do cutting edge legal work and do it with my friends,” he said.