Expertise And Value: Firm’s Core Principles Enable Winning Results

Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 15:12

The Editor interviews John F. Murphy, Chair, Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P.

Editor: How does the quality of legal services at Shook, Hardy stack up to what is provided by firms on the East and West Coasts?

Murphy: The quality of legal services provided by Shook is second to none.  For many, many years we have been asked to handle complex litigation at the very highest level and have achieved excellent results.  But I would suggest that in addition to the quality of our work, what sets us apart from a lot of other firms is our ability to deliver that quality at a value that is very attractive to our clients.

We have been fortunate to receive national recognition at each end of the spectrum in this regard: The American Lawyer named Shook its Product Liability Litigation Department of the Year in 2012, while we were also recognized by in-house lawyers as one of the top four best values in the nation, as reported by BTI Consulting Group. At the same time, the International Law Office named the firm its 2012 U.S. Client Choice Award recipient, while our firm – certainly one with a roll-up-your-sleeves work ethic – appeared on The American Lawyer Litigation Power Ranking, which recognized the top 25 litigation firms in the country.

I hesitate to even refer to such awards because they are not what we are about, but I believe such recognitions validate our approach to litigation and underscore our record of success.  Simply put, our attorneys try and win more major cases than just about any firm in the country, and we do it without breaking our clients’ budgets.  No matter where we are physically located, we are proud to be known as one of “the world’s largest litigation boutiques.”

Editor: You mentioned the Shook, Hardy business model. What defines that business model?

Murphy: Shook operates under the principle that the highest level of legal expertise should be delivered to clients at the greatest possible value. We are problem solvers first and foremost, but our firm is also known as one that embraces alternative fees and project management techniques that help our clients anticipate legal costs. We have been very open with the industry on our approach to cost management, and we are advocates of the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Value Challenge to “Meet. Talk. Act.”

The bottom line for us is this: we listen. Listening to our clients on the front end and understanding their business needs is what puts us in the best position to tailor our value in a way that is most meaningful to them.

In terms of logistics, Shook maintains its “back-of-the-house” functions out of the firm’s low-cost center in Kansas City, which is home to another of our greatest assets – an in-house research and analysis group that provides attorneys with industry-specific expertise and support. This structure positions our lawyers, practicing in jurisdictions from coast to coast, to more efficiently meet their clients’ highly specialized business needs.

At the same time, we have on-staff business managers that engineer processes to ensure we deliver successful results on budget. Our project managers work with partners and their legal teams, as well as with our analysts and paralegals, administrative teams, and our accounting department to streamline all aspects of a matter.

Our aim is to offer our clients more than just favorable trial results. The legal industry has evolved to the point where winning at trial isn’t enough anymore, and Shook is positioning itself as a leader in delivering excellent service and value to clients long before a case ever makes it to the courtroom.

Editor: Value seems to be one core tenet of a Midwest firm like Shook, Hardy, but are there any other points of strength that you would consider a hallmark of your law firm?

Murphy: A core tenet of the business of our law firm has always been to share expertise among colleagues. We do this for the benefit of our clients first but also to expand the reach of our practice into new areas for the firm. As you are aware, we are historically known as a product liability practice – the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries gave us our “break” as a national defense firm nearly 50 years ago – and we remain home to the largest of its kind in the world. However, because of our commitment to leveraging knowledge into new practices, we’ve been able to organically grow into new areas of expertise. For instance, Shook, Hardy & Bacon (SHB) is also home to a nationally recognized intellectual property practice that has been fortunate to earn the trust of clients like Microsoft Corporation, Sprint and Nike. This group has grown steadily in recent years to what is now a group of 60 attorneys serving clients across the country. We are fortunate, too, to have grown from within our own firm an environmental and toxic tort group that is privileged to represent clients like The Coca-Cola Company, Burns & McDonnell and Ford Motor Company.

Editor: The structure of your firm seems to have a significant impact on your business model, but how does that structure affect Shook, Hardy in terms of legal strategy?

Murphy: Our structure allows a degree of flexibility that enables us to take on litigation and to represent clients throughout the United States and across Europe. In fact, The American Lawyer selected our firm as its 2012 Product Liability Litigation Department of the Year for our ability to apply our business model in a way that draws on the expertise of SHB’s “deep bench of first-chair trial lawyers” to try multiple cases “simultaneously” across the country. The structure of our firm – with a base of operations in Kansas City and expert trial lawyers in offices and on the ground in jurisdictions across the country – allows us to provide clients with coverage no matter the timing or jurisdiction. In making its case, The American Lawyer noted the example of one particular day in October 2011 when our attorneys obtained two defense verdicts in Florida, while trying two other cases in Alaska and New Jersey, both of which also would result in defense verdicts. Our firm is able to achieve this type of result because of our years of experience in managing entire national dockets of litigation for a number of clients.

Editor: Shook, Hardy has been recognized as an industry leader in diversity. How did diversity become such an integral part of your firm’s culture?

Murphy: We have been very deliberate and passionate about making diversity a priority, not only in recruiting attorneys to join our firm but also in bringing that diverse group of talent to bear in the work we do on behalf of clients. In what started as a grassroots effort more than a decade ago, our diversity programming has become an essential component of the firm’s mission statement and supports an environment where all of our employees feel respected and appreciated and enjoy fulfillment in making meaningful contributions to our culture. Diversity became a prominent part of our firm, largely because we recognized it had to be. In addition to the moral imperative, we identified significant business imperatives that encouraged us to take seriously our approach to creating a diverse environment. As a result, we migrated from a grassroots movement to a formal program that is led by a director of strategic diversity initiatives who works in concert with our firm’s executive committee, diversity and inclusion committee, women’s management council and a staff diversity committee, among other leadership groups within the firm. Our efforts are ongoing, but we are pleased to be making progress. For instance, three of our nine-member executive committee are women, and two of our firm’s nine offices are led by women. 

Editor: Kansas City has been recognized as one of the most charitable cities in America. How important is community service at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, and in what ways are you and your colleagues involved in your community?

Murphy: Kansas City’s reputation as a philanthropic community certainly is contagious, and I have been impressed by our attorneys and staff who have made numerous contributions to their communities across the country.

As a firm, we do all we can to keep up, and we take great pride in supporting our colleagues’ interest in serving others, whether that be through pro bono work, volunteerism to local charities or other forms of community service.

Through a coordinated effort led by our pro bono committee and director of pro bono services, SHB contributes annually about 30,000 hours of free legal counsel across the country. Many of these hours are provided to children’s causes and helping hundreds of families navigate complex adoption matters each year.

In addition to the firm’s pro bono service, our attorneys and staff currently hold board of director positions on nearly 230 nonprofit organizations, and we are involved in coordinating fundraisers and other charitable events throughout the year in the communities where we work and live.

Please email the interviewee at jmurphy@shb.com with questions about this interview.