Taking the Reins: Newby Leads Storied Law Firm into Future

Brian Newby 

Fort Worth attorney Brian Newby was elected managing partner of storied-area law firm Cantey Hanger LLP in June.

It’s a big move for the full-service law firm that was established in 1882 and now has offices in Fort Worth and Dallas and has over 40 attorneys.

Newby, whose career has taken him from Cantey Hanger to the United States Air Force to Austin and now back to Fort Worth, replaces Michael Appleman, who had been managing partner since August 2015. Appleman will continue with his practice areas focusing on Estate Planning, Trusts & Estates and Tax.

“Michael Appleman has been a tremendous managing partner and will continue to hold a leadership role.” Newby stated. “It is an honor and professional privilege to take the reins at Cantey Hanger, a Texas institution in the legal and business community. From its beginning in the 1880s to today’s full-service and diverse law firm, Cantey Hanger has been on the cutting edge of the legal practice, always bringing outstanding results to our clients throughout Texas and nationally.”

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Newby said Appleman will be a big help in the transition.

“I’ve got a great teacher in Michael Appleman, who’s done a great job here and in kind of turning the reins over. We’re trying to work through a number of issues and figure out what our next strategic initiatives are going to be,” he said.

Appleman, for his part, is looking forward to the leadership skills Newby can bring.

“Brian has enjoyed success, and he has risen to the top, in all of his endeavors – from General Counsel and Chief of Staff to the Governor of Texas to earning promotions to the rank of Major General in the United States Air Force,” Appleman said. “He will bring the same leadership skills to our organization.”

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Newby knows his position as managing partner is important not only to the firm, but also to the legal community in Fort Worth and the state.

“I think it’s also important that Cantey Hanger recognize that we need diversity in the law practice,” he said. “We need diversity in our leadership. I can’t guarantee this, but I’m almost sure that I’m the first African-American head of a major law firm in Fort Worth¬¬ and maybe the state.”

Newby’s career has followed anything but a straight line. More like a zigzag that ended up in the same place. It’s an interesting journey, he notes.

He joined Cantey Hanger in 1991 and became a partner in 1996. He became Texas Governor Rick Perry’s General Counsel in 2004 and was named Chief of Staff July 1, 2007. He served as the director of the Division of Disaster Recovery and Renewal after Hurricane Ike struck Texas in 2008 and returned to Cantey Hanger in January 2009. Newby is also a former Vice Chairman of the Board of Regents, Texas Tech University System. Along the way, Newby also formed a law firm with former city councilwoman, state senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis.

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Quite the curriculum vitae for Newby, who grew up in Fort Worth, graduating from Western Hills High School in 1979.

It was in high school when teachers said to him, “You ought to think about being a lawyer,” he recalls. “Once that was ingrained in me, I thought that might be something I’d be interested in.”

But public service was also important to him.

“My dad was in the Air Force – he was a B-52 Navigator – so I’d grown up as an Air Force brat. I understood that serving your country is important and everything that goes along with that,” he said.

He wondered how he could be a lawyer and also follow in his father’s footsteps. The Air Force said it was possible.

After graduating from Texas Tech as part of the ROTC, he went to law school at the University of Texas, earning his degree in 1986.

After he finished law school, the Air Force said it was time to put in four years of active duty.

“The interesting thing for me was that I had about six months between taking the bar exam and going on active duty and I came here, I came to Cantey Hanger, and they said, ‘Why don’t you join us at the same time we’re bringing on another group of associates and let’s see if you’re interested in coming here,’” he said.

Newby heads the firm’s Public/Regulatory practice, representing Fortune 500 companies, national insurance carriers, retail distributors, small businesses and political subdivisions, including school districts, water and transportation authorities in commercial litigation, administrative law and governmental affairs.

He’s not alone in being an attorney who has stayed with Cantey Hanger over the course of a career.

“I’ll tell you the interesting thing about Cantey Hanger,” he said. “When you look at the lawyers that are here and you look at the senior lawyers and you ask them, ‘What law firm did you start with?’ They’ll tell you Cantey Hanger.

“They come here, they stay here. There’s a reason for that and that’s why this is the firm that I wanted to be a managing partner with because that’s the legacy and the reputation and the work environment that exists within this firm. And I think that’s important.”

Newby’s Air Force career gave him a lot of trial – and travel – experience.

“The benefit for me was to be able to go serve my country, become a trial lawyer, and travel all at the same time,” he said. “My last assignment when I was on active duty was what we call a circuit trial counsel. You travel a circuit, and my circuit was the west coast of the U.S.”

He tried a lot of sexual assault cases and child sexual abuse cases.

“I would come in, prepare the witnesses, try the case and we’d finish the case up, go to the officer’s club, have a beer, get on an airplane and go to the next location. It was just that constantly for my last active duty assignment,” he said.

Newby returned to Cantey Hanger in 1991, but then got a phone call from then-Gov. George W. Bush’s office and he was interviewed as a candidate to be general counsel. He interviewed but was not selected. He thought that was it.

Then, a few years later, he received a phone call from Gov. Rick Perry, who wanted Newby as his general counsel. “And my first response was, ‘I’ve gone through this drill before, kind of got my hopes up a little bit. And it didn’t pan out.’”

Not this time. Perry said Newby was the guy he wanted.

Newby eventually added the title chief of staff.

He served as general counsel for Perry from 2005 to 2007 and was the governor’s chief of staff from 2007 to 2009. After Hurricane Ike slammed into Texas in 2008, Newby began the Governor’s Office of Disaster Recovery and Relief, leading the state’s efforts to obtain federal funds to aid in the recovery. He also helped secure $2.4 billion following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Newby was chief of staff when the Governor’s Mansion burned down.

“Try being on the phone with the governor who’s out of the country, explaining to him that his house is burning down,” he said.

Newby’s next move was another bit of a zigzag. After serving as chief of staff for the Republican governor, he set up a law firm with Democrat Davis.

“When I was in the governor’s office, I saw that there were potential business opportunities for minority lawyers,” he said. “It was at the same time that Cantey Hanger was talking to Wendy Davis about maybe coming to work here and having seen that opportunity, I thought, ‘You know what, what would really be neat is if Wendy and I might be able to create a diverse firm, male, female, African American, Caucasian, Republican, Democrat. Kind of that whole dynamic might be something that might be attractive to clients.’ And it was, it absolutely was,” he said.

As for the future of Cantey Hanger, as well as Fort Worth, Newby is optimistic. The growth is occurring just outside his office window.

“All you have to do is look down West Seventh and look down in the hospital district. And everything that’s going up is a new business. The businesses that are there are expanding businesses and there’s legal work that generally goes along with that,” he said. “We want to tap in and capture as much of that as we can. It also means that there will be more lawsuits, and this firm has always prided itself on being the litigation firm in Fort Worth. We have been that and want to continue to be that.”