Kevin Arnel this month was named managing partner of Foulston Siefkin law firm, which has 86 attorneys and 92 employees working from offices in Wichita, Overland Park and Topeka.
His ascent to the firm’s top management post came after the death in April of Doug Stanley, who had been battling cancer.
Arnel, 50, joined Foulston straight out of law school at Washburn University in Topeka.
A native of Wichita and graduate of Wichita Southeast High School, Arnel said he and his wife, Roxanne, also a native Wichitan, had opportunities to move to Kansas City and Dallas and work for firms there when he graduated 26 years ago.
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“Wichita is home for my family,” he said.
Arnel’s practice focuses on tax exempt organizations, real estate, general business and estate planning law. He has two sons who are 20 and 21.
Did you set out in college to get a law degree?
I started out thinking I wanted to be in petroleum land management, which is one of the programs SMU (Southern Methodist University) had. One of my teachers was a law school professor. I ended up taking three classes from her, and I just really enjoyed them.
What were the classes ?
One was constitutional law, one was international law and one of them was criminal law, none of which I do.
Did you do an internship here?
I actually clerked with the Fleeson firm, but when the job interviews came around, we had an opportunity to come down here to a couple of different places. I joined up with the Foulston folks and enjoyed it ever since.
Did you intend to eventually become the managing partner of a law firm?
No, I didn’t. I went to law school to be a lawyer. Our firm elects an executive committee and managing partner every year. I’ve been on the executive committee for 10 years now and that’s been great and I’ve appreciated that opportunity. So I guess you could say that was a gradual buildup (to becoming managing partner).
So when did you start thinking about the possibility that you might be put into this position?
(Doug Stanley) was doing a wonderful job. But for his cancer he would have been re-elected. It really wasn’t until Doug’s situation took a marked downturn that we had to start thinking about it pretty hard.
What kind of influence does the managing partner at Foulston have since there is also an executive committee?
Our culture, our style, is to do things by consensus. The executive committee and managing partner certainly have the job to develop that consensus and lead us in the right direction. We have lots of owners and smart, independent people that we count on to provide the executive committee with their thoughts and input.
How are you managing your time serving clients and leading the firm?
Our partnership agreement contemplates it will be about a 50-50 deal. One of the real benefits is not only do we have the executive committee … then all the team leaders … we have a really good administrative staff, too. So that permits me to kind of do the 50-50 deal.
But are you spending more time at work because you are managing partner?
Yeah, I think so. Here at least initially.
What do you want to accomplish as managing partner?
I want to, among other things, continue the growth that we’re enjoyed since I’ve been with the firm. It’s been a very deliberate, thoughtful kind of growth model where we really try to recruit folks from the top schools and hire lateral lawyers when it makes sense, particularly in our growth areas like health care, alternative energy.
Where else do you see growth opportunities besides the industry sectors you just named?
The northeast Kansas area is one that I think has a lot of growth potential for us (with) health care and tech types of clients as well as our standard business, litigation and employment (clients).
You said your job as managing partner is made easier by the managing partners who came before you. What did you mean by that?
One of the great things about Doug and just the history of the firm, we developed a really kind of strong and I guess you’d say deep talent pool. The great thing is there isn’t anything that needs fixed.
What would you tell a young lawyer about how to have a successful career?
It probably sounds kind of simplistic, but I think if you have excellent skills, focus on clients’ needs and you’re willing to work hard, that pretty well gets you covered.
Listen to your clients. They will tell you what you need to do. The chance to work with those people and help out … is kind of the cool part. And for a young lawyer, if their technical skills are good … then over time they develop that relationship and become the trusted adviser, confidant. And that’s when it really gets good, it really becomes fun. At least that’s been true for me.
What do you mean by technical skills?
You’ve got to have the fundamentals. It’s like shooting the ball in basketball. The fundamentals are analysis, problem solving and then you have to be able to communicate it in a persuasive way.
What’s the longest client relationship you have?
Today there are folks I work for that I started working with my first year (at Foulston, in 1987).