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Kailas finds success in the lead

Steve Kailas never sought to be a frontrunner.

It just always seemed to end up that way.

The first of seven siblings in a first-generation Greek family to attend college, Kailas parlayed his Marquette University law degree directly into his own tiny practice. It was a three-year venture he called “humbling” and a “crash course in business.”

He stuck it out until he was given the chance to join a growing business practice, then known as Kohner and Mann. In 1975, Marvin Kohner unexpectedly passed away, which again put Kailas in charge — and with more responsibility than ever before.

“It was intimidating,” Kailas said. “All of a sudden, you’ve got a number of people who rely on you to feed their families and send their kids to college and it’s not your individual concerns anymore. They are all your concerns, and that extends them appreciably.”

Kailas has channeled that intimidation into growth and success. The firm has expanded from six lawyers in the mid-1970s to 27. It also has branched out in its representation of business creditors’ rights and international trade disputes and contracts.

Reflecting on his more than five decades in law in Milwaukee, Kailas mixed self-deprecating humor and psychoanalysis with his thoughts on what makes up the core of professionalism. To the diverse needs of his business litigation clients, that means connections that bring most work via word-of-mouth recommendations and a healthy share of cases handled on a contingent-fee basis.

In-house, Kailas said, he always surrounded the firm with unselfish co-workers, avoided politics and, he says with a laugh, by hiring “people smarter than me.”

“None of us is 100 percent our own person,” he said, “which means the best result you can get is in working with people who can help you achieve what you want to achieve by utilizing strengths and discarding weaknesses.”

Kailas’s family and community involvement have grown alongside KMK. He’s been married for more than 50 years and his two sons — including Christopher, also an attorney at KMK — have had their own children in the past few years.

Kailas serves on community organizations that recall his roots in family and education such as the Orthodox Christian Charities and a Marquette board that gave input on the new law school center.

“We’re carving out a life together,” Kailas said, “and we take whatever there is and share it appropriately.”


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