A labor and employment partner who has spent her entire career at Potter Anderson & Corroon has been named chair of the 94-lawyer firm.
Kathleen Furey McDonough, who took the position Jan. 1, is the first woman to chair the firm in its 192-year history. According to Potter Anderson, she is also the first woman to lead a major Delaware firm.
McDonough joined Potter Anderson nearly 33 years ago and is the longtime leader of its labor and employment practice. She has served as a member of the executive committee since 2015, and was named chair-elect last year.
McDonough was also a part of the executive committee in the late 1990s, but becoming a law firm leader wasn’t a career priority back then, she said.
“I focused on developing expertise and developing a client base of organizations. I do management-side work, so I focused on developing client relationships that were for the long haul,” she said.
Now that she is chairing the firm, McDonough said she will be seeking opportunities for targeted growth. She said she plans to identify, with the help of the executive committee, “opportunities for practice areas that may not be traditionally what we have done, and consider whether there are paths we want to pursue.”
That doesn’t mean delving into unrelated practice areas, or going after a big merger, she noted. It’s more about taking advantage of practices that may not have existed 20 or 30 years ago.
“I don’t think being that one-stop shop firm is necessarily the recipe for success,” McDonough said. “But if there’s a practice area we see as a result of new developments in the law, as one we want to take advantage of … we want to be ready for that.”
As the firm’s first woman chair, McDonough said she also hopes to continue making Potter Anderson a place where lawyers can openly benefit from a flexible work environment—a factor she credits for allowing some women to advance in the legal industry. Now, she said, there is widespread understanding at her firm for lawyers who need to work remotely or on a flexible schedule for family reasons, but 15 years ago that may not have been the case.
“My dream is that the day comes when it is not noteworthy that there’s a major Delaware law firm led by a woman,” McDonough said, but based on the statistics, which show women leaving law firms in droves before making it into equity partner ranks, that will take some time.
She said creating an environment that works well for lawyers with families helps women stay engaged in the practice of law.
When the Family and Medical Leave Act was passed, McDonough wrote Potter Anderson’s paid parental leave policy. All lawyers, men and women, can take three months of leave when they have a new child.
The firm recently reconstituted a technology committee, she said, which is a major component in providing lawyers with work-life balance. That will also help the firm to recruit and retain young talent, McDonough noted, as millennials place an emphasis on using technology efficiently in the workplace.
“The foundation [of improving law firm technology] is excellence in lawyering and meeting the highest legal standards. You can’t try a case without expertise in technology,” McDonough said. “I think the millennial generation is going to be key to making sure we remain that way.”
While mentoring these lawyers is important, it’s also imperative to listen to their ideas about the profession, she said.
“I think there’s learning in every organization, and that’s really key to this,” McDonough said. “We want to be that learning organization, not just teaching.”