As chairman of Husch Blackwell, Maurice Watson not only successfully leads a large firm in the traditional sense, but he has adeptly continued his commitment to social and community issues through that leadership.
Whether it is his service on charitable boards, or championing diversity, Watson said it’s important to be nimble.
“And I think I have been, in getting to know people on both sides,” he said.
Watson calls himself a “product of the Kansas City public school system,” which he attended prior to earning a scholarship to a private high school, then graduating from Harvard for both his undergraduate and law degrees.
While at Harvard, Watson became interested in “big picture issues,” he said.
He went to work as a senior aide to Sen. Jack Danforth, addressing social policy, education, health care and advising on appointments to the federal bench.
Watson worked for Danforth for three years before his friend and mentor, Irv Hockaday, asked if he would consider coming back to Kansas City. Taking the advice of the former Hallmark and Kansas City Southern CEO, Watson made the choice to, indeed, come home to Kansas City.
He had clerked for Blackwell Sanders, which would become Husch Blackwell, during summer breaks from Harvard Law before graduating in 1984 and, as an attorney, was drawn to the firm’s practice area addressing school and education issues.
“I thought it was unique and fascinating work,” Watson said.
Watson took a position with the firm in that practice area, eventually becoming the relationship manager for the Kansas City Public School system. The education practice is now a large one, representing secondary and higher education institutions.
Inside the firm, Watson works to advance Husch Blackwell’s commitment to diversity.
In 2017, seven of the firm’s nine attorneys receiving new partner promotions were women. The firm has also received back-to-back perfect scores in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index, which measures companies’ commitments to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.
But it’s important, Watson said, to keep the effort ongoing.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, however, and we can never be complacent,” he said.
Watson’s tenure as chairman will end this quarter.
“My plan is now to look to different ways, other than a traditional legal practice, in how I can address some of the issues that I think are critically important in social and public policy,” he said.
Watson is developing a venture to provide advisory services to individuals, families, and private foundations that are looking for ways to give back to communities. He will work with Husch Blackwell on this initiative, assisting existing clients with their philanthropic goals.
Watson’s community involvement includes membership on the Metropolitan Community College Foundation board of directors, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art board of trustees and the University of Missouri-Kansas City board of trustees.