Before Bill Quatman became a lawyer, he was an architect.
Quatman, senior vice president and general counsel at Burns & McDonnell in Kansas City, studied architecture at the undergraduate level and went into the field. When he went to law school, he said he didn’t want to waste that background.
“My goal was to combine the two and find a way to specialize in representing architects,” he said.
At Burns & McDonnell, he said he’s able to engage both passions, as the firm combines construction and design as part of its design-build focus.
In his role as general counsel, Quatman handles corporate matters, claims and litigation and a variety of business issues. His nine attorneys handle things like contract negotiation, freeing Quatman up for bigger-picture work.
During his nine years with the company, he said he is most proud of his work to restructure the legal department.
“Part of that is due to company growth,” he said, noting the company has gone from about 2,500 employees when he started in 2008 to about 6,000 today.
In the past, a person could walk into the department with an issue, and could talk to any lawyer in the office, he said. Today it’s more structured, with lawyers assigned to certain groups within the company.
Quatman said part of his role is to be “the calming voice in the room” in crisis.
“Whatever the urgency is, you’ve got to be the voice of reason to take the company through the thought process and organizational process to get through whatever the issue is,” he said.
He said a challenge is getting multiple groups of people on board for decision-making. At his company, he pointed to the board and various heads of divisions in the company.
“It’s a lot of different people you need to assemble to get decisions made,” he said.
He said he enjoys the variety of his work, noting in his prior private practice work in construction litigation, there “was nothing new I hadn’t seen in 25 years.”
Quatman said there is the perception in the private practice world that in-house counsel work is easier. He said he typically works 12-hour days, but the work is “thoroughly enjoyable.”
“You have a single client to serve, so you’re not trying to bring in new business and chase receivables, and they bring you business all day long,” he said.
In his personal time, Quatman is president of The American Society of Ephesus, a non-profit foundation that helps restore ancient Christian church sites in Turkey. The organization was founded by his grandfather in 1955, and later headed by his father.
Quatman says that role allows him to travel to Turkey regularly, which he enjoys. He said he also likes the exposure to different cultures.
“Turkey is a Muslim country and politically, it’s very different than the U.S., but we get to work with some interesting people and interesting projects,” he said. “I’ve met people who I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”