The late Gerald “Jerry” Kahn, who helped found one of the largest law firms in Wisconsin, is remembered as a smart, talented lawyer with a very caring, approachable nature.
Kahn, who died July 2, was committed not only to his clients and the firm, but to the community at large.
His many positive attributes helped shape Godfrey & Kahn SC, Milwaukee, the firm Kahn began in 1957 with Dudley Godfrey. What started as a two-person firm grew to include more than 175 attorneys and more than 400 total employees.
Managing Partner Nicholas Wahl said he remembered Kahn as someone who was very respectful toward everybody at the firm. Kahn strove to create a team atmosphere, Wahl said, where everyone was valued.
“I think his reputation of being approachable, of being respectful, of being very inclusive will continue to carry on through the firm,” Wahl said.
Margie Bartaczewicz, Kahn’s assistant for 35 years, said she was impressed by his desire to stay connected with each person who worked there.
“Even as we got bigger,” she said, “Jerry always liked to acknowledge people by first name, no matter who they were. If he was walking down a hall and saw someone he didn’t recognize, he would always ask me to find out who that was, so he could use their name.”
Kahn was an attorney and a certified public accountant, whose practice focused on estate planning, corporate law and probate law.
Stephen Chernof, a partner with the firm since 1983, described Kahn as an “extremely talented lawyer,” dedicated to finding creative solutions to client’s problems.
Kahn encouraged lawyers at the firm to do the same thing, Chernof said. As a leader, he wanted lawyers at the firm to “learn and really understand the client’s business, so that you can understand what the client needs and wants, and develop a practical solution,” Chernof said.
Although Kahn was a very successful lawyer, Wahl said, he had no ego. Richard Bliss, the managing partner for 15 years prior to Wahl, agreed and said Kahn’s collaborative approach served as an example to other lawyers in the firm.
“If you wanted to work as part of a team, you were welcome at Godfrey & Kahn,” Bliss said. “If you wanted to put the spotlight on yourself, you were not going to make it at the firm in the long run.”
Kahn’s philanthropic nature also was incorporated into the firm. He was dedicated to serving groups such as the Jewish Federation, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and the Holocaust Museum.
His commitment to philanthropy encouraged others to do the same, Bliss said, leaving a legacy that continues today.
“It made it possible for the rest of us to get involved in those type of things,” Bliss said “Jerry and Dudley showed us the way and encouraged us to do that.”