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Katten's New Chairman Refocuses On People

New Katten Muchin Rosenman chairman Roger Furey took the reins last month from Vince Sergi, who led the firm for 21 years. We stopped by Katten's Georgetown office to hear Roger's plans for the 600-lawyer firm.

Katten's New Chairman Refocuses On People

Roger was most recently Katten's DC office managing partner and is based at 2900 K St NW next to Washington Harbor. He tells us he'll spend a couple days each week in Chicago, where the firm was founded in 1974. (It's a bonus that one of his three daughters is also in Chicago for a five-year PhD program.) The firm has 13 offices in the US, UK and China.

After accepting the chairman post last winter, Roger started working on the transition with Vince several months ago. One piece of advice from Vince: Believe in the people around you. Trust them.

Or, as Roger's friend, Leadership Council on Legal Diversity president Robert Grey, put it, "Good luck with your new position and don't screw it up."

In addition to his chair role, Roger's a member of the executive committee, compensation committee and board of directors. An IP litigator, he'll also maintain his practice. Katten switched its governance structure three years ago from one firmwide managing partner to two heads—a chairman and a CEO, Noah Heller—as a result of the firm's growth.

Katten's New Chairman Refocuses On People

It's time to refocus on the people, Roger tells us. He loves coming to work and, as a young lawyer, he loved the collegiality and human interaction that was part of the law firm environment. He says the legal profession has lost a bit of that collegiality as it has become necessary to operate larger firms as efficient businesses.

"I want to go back to some of that old-school model," he says. Part of that is considering ways to de-emphasize the billable hour as a measure of internal success for lawyers.

"We're going to have open minds on how we address the billable hour," Roger says. He tells us Katten wants to better evaluate "how our people act as owners of our client relationships and how they carry out their fiduciary duties to the firm." They're in the process of bringing in a new attorney development manager to help develop a better way of evaluating associates and even partners.

If associates want to know what they should do to succeed at Katten, they'll also be able to turn to a client service curriculum the firm is close to rolling out. It creates client service standards that cover everything from the first interactions to handling matters to billing. It'll serve to improve client relationships and as a roadmap to partnership at the firm.

Katten's New Chairman Refocuses On People

Roger pointed out the view from his office, where he once spotted the Capitals players rowing kayaks as part of a team-building exercise. He admires that initiative in Caps coach Barry Trotz (who recently received an award for best NHL coach this season): that's what a good coach does; not just train, but bring people together.

As chairman, Roger would like to do the same thing. He wants to facilitate engagement between partners and associates, and says he's coming up with ways to create opportunities for people to get to know each other (He made a similar point when we asked about his summer reading recommendation, saying the book The Boys in the Boat emphasized that no matter how strong and individual you are, it's all about syncing up with the people around you).

Katten's New Chairman Refocuses On People

Katten had its own regatta on the Potomac recently to fundraise for Food From the Bar, for which Roger rowed with trademark and advertising partner Michael Justus. Since we ran into Michael on dry land, we snapped him with Roger and Roger's administrative assistant, Dawn Goodloe.

Katten's New Chairman Refocuses On People

Another of the firm's priorities is reinvigorating the focus on business development and practice management. Katten is bundling together client teams that span disciplines; they hold regular client team meetings where the practice management team and business development team brief the room, talking about developments and challenges with that particular client.

It's all non-billable time that helps facilitate the treasured "counselor" relationship with clients that goes back to when law was seen as more of a profession than a business.

While furthering human relationships, Katten's also modernizing its tech. The legal industry has changed and a lot depends on client-facing technology and technology within a firm, Roger points out. Katten is increasing its tech capabilities to improve staffing, pricing and knowledge management systems.

Katten's New Chairman Refocuses On People

In terms of growth, core areas like financial services, corporate work, high stakes litigation, finance, environmental law and workplace safety are focuses. So is the intersection of real estate, financial services and private equity, which has recently attracted regulatory attention.

"We've never been of the school that bigger is better" for its own sake, but are keeping an eye open for opportunities to have groups join, Roger says.

This fall, Roger's heading to China to build on relationships with the country's business and government leaders, alongside Katten of counsel and former long-serving Mayor of Chicago Richard M. Daley—who has strong ties with China—and Katten corporate practice global head Mark Grossmann.

Katten's New Chairman Refocuses On People

Roger keeps this copy of treasured photographs of a golf outing with his late father and some of his brothers in his office (the framed original hangs in his bedroom). He's one of 10 children. Despite his busy schedule, he says these pictures remind him of what's important at the end of the day: family.

He lives in Old Town Alexandria on a creek off of the Potomac with his wife and one of his three daughters, and often rides his bike to and from work when his travel and meetings schedule allows. When he's not working, you can find him reading, golfing, or relaxing at home or on his boat with family.

Katten's New Chairman Refocuses On People

Another photograph on his desk shows Roger and two of his daughters atop the sky-high Angels Landing in Zion National Park, during a recent trip with his daughters and wife around Zion, Yellowstone, Jackson Hole and Bryce Canyon. Recalling reaching the peak of the famously strenuous uphill hike reminds him that, if he did that, he can do anything.