Husch Blackwell’s law partners elected Catherine Hanaway to succeed Greg Smith as the firm’s chairman, making her the first female lawyer to lead the practice when she begins her term next year.
Hanaway is a former U.S. attorney for the St. Louis-based Eastern District of Missouri and speaker of the Missouri House. She joined Husch Blackwell’s St. Louis office in 2013 and played a key role in launching the firm’s government solutions practice group, which she now leads, the firm said in a statement announcing her selection.
She’ll assume her new role in April 2021.
Smith, who previously served as the firm’s chief executive officer, will return to his full-time legal practice representing real estate developers and other clients in major real estate projects in the Midwest.
“It has been a real joy and a real privilege to be a leader in our firm,” Smith said in a phone interview. “I’m not going away but I’m leaving this position in tremendously capable hands.”
Smith, who has chaired the firm since 2018, recently made waves in the legal profession by speaking openly and candidly about his struggles with alcoholism. He said he hopes that part of his legacy will be to lift the veil on alcoholism, anxiety and depression in the legal field. “It’s systemic,” he said. “These problems are not unique to our firm.”
The firm’s one-year transition to Hanaway’s leadership will be colored by the coronavirus pandemic, which has already had measurable impacts on law firms and their clients.
Husch Blackwell switched to an entirely remote workforce in mid-March, according to Smith, and pushed back the start date of its summer associate program by five weeks. The firm also reduced payments to equity partners and reduced C-Suite executive pay by 10 percent. “We felt it was important for us to start the pain at the top,” Smith said.
Hanaway has led the firm’s teams on complex commercial litigation matters, criminal and civil investigations, and regulatory enforcement actions.
“I’m proud of my partners for electing Catherine and I’m proud of her for taking this position,” Smith said. “She takes on what is going to be a tough job.”
“My focus and the firm’s focus is how we help our clients,” Hanaway said. “Even though this is a difficult time for law firms, this is a catastrophic time for clients.”
Hanaway cut her teeth in politics in the 1990s as a staffer for former U.S. Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.). She won a seat in the Missouri House in 1998 and became the first female speaker in 2002.
After an unsuccessful bid for Missouri secretary of state, Hanaway was appointed US attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri in 2005, where she served until 2009.
She left the public sector in 2009 to join The Ashcroft Group, a consulting firm led by former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, a one-time Missouri governor and U.S. senator. Hanaway joined Husch Blackwell in 2013.
“I have long admired the strengths Catherine has exhibited throughout her career—grace under pressure, teamwork, and the ability to block out distractions in order to stay focused on goals,” Husch Blackwell’s chief executive Paul Eberle said in a statement. “She is eminently qualified and uniquely prepared to serve our law firm as chairperson.”