As she prepares to take on a new role as chair of Husch Blackwell, Catherine Hanaway is focused on ensuring it emerges from the coronavirus crisis as the strongest law firm possible for its clients.
Husch Blackwell announced April 14 that firm partners have chosen Hanaway, a former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri and former speaker of the state House of Representatives, to become the firm’s next chair. She will be the firm’s first woman chair when she assumes the role on April 1, 2021.
The industry-focused firm has offices in 18 U.S. cities and 1,700 lawyers who work in such fields as energy, finance, agribusiness, health care and real estate.
“It’s a great privilege, and I’m remarkably humbled that my partners would select me,” Hanaway said in an interview. “Obviously it comes at a challenging time for our country and our clients, so in the short run, I am hyper-focused on trying to help our clients survive the catastrophic economic downturn. Our firm is very fortunate to have extremely talented leaders currently in the positions of CEO Paul Eberle and Chairman Greg Smith.”
Smith will transition to practicing law full-time as counsel to real estate developers and others on projects in the Midwest. He said he is confident Hanaway is the right person to build upon the firm’s existing achievements and lead it into the future.
Serving as chair for the past two years has been an honor, Smith said, but he’s also ready to have time for fishing and hunting on the weekends while giving full-time attention to his legal practice and clients.
“We have implemented what I believe to be many innovative, client-centric initiatives — legal content management, client portals, alternative pricing structures, and on and on — that I fully expect Catherine will want to continue,” he said.
Based in St. Louis, Hanaway successfully formed and led the firm’s government solutions group, building on connections and skills maintained from her time in public office. She also led litigation teams on significant investigations, complex commercial litigation and regulatory enforcement actions.
Smith, who has worked with the firm for about 30 years, called her a dedicated leader, creative thinker and likeable person who will build upon the scale and depth of her expertise in the firm’s industry groups while forging her own way in a rapidly changing and increasingly competitive legal industry.
“It really has been an incredibly challenging and joyous experience at times to lead this firm,” Smith said. “Catherine is a strategic thinker. I think that’s one of the most important qualities for the job. You have to be able to have the big view in mind … She’s a person of real loyalty and commitment, and that’s important.”
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Hanaway had intended to visit all of the firm’s offices. While those plans are on hold, she is attending all executive board and other leadership meetings and studying what other major firms are doing to weather the lockdown period. She’s also upped her intake of ’70s rock ’n’ roll to alleviate stress, she said.
Hanaway said she wants to reinforce the firm’s commitment to having lawyers who specialize not only in their law practices but their clients’ industries, and know what it takes to be effective in those fields.
“Businesses need trusted advisors right now who are not just thinking about short-term law firm profitability but really … work to assure the success of the business, and I’m going to build on that orientation that we put our clients first and be partners in their success,” she said.