Retirement Tribute: John A. Kenney

Happy Retirement, John Kenney!

McAfee & Taft is proud to honor the career of John Kenney, one of nation’s preeminent trial lawyers and a man of many varied and extraordinary talents, and to celebrate his retirement from the firm.

John began his career as an engineer before deciding to change course and go to law school. Upon graduating, he went to work as a litigation associate in the Houston, TX, office of Baker Botts. Six years later, he returned to Oklahoma and joined McAfee & Taft. Over the course of his distinguished 42-year career at the firm, he racked up numerous industry honors while also serving on McAfee & Taft’s board of directors and as leader of the firm’s Litigation Practice Group and Intellectual Property Practice Group.

Within the business and legal communities, John is best known for his accomplishments in the courtroom as well as for his respectful and gracious demeanor. Within the firm, though, he will perhaps best be remembered for generously giving of his time to teach, mentor, and elevate those with whom he worked. Among the many important lessons John taught — either through words and by his own example — were these: be prepared, be thorough, be respectful, and be kind.

In addition to being a highly accomplished lawyer and elected fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, John is also an inventor and owner of multiple patents, a published songwriter, and a pastor.


Frank Hill, McAfee & Taft real estate lawyer and ACREL Fellow

I first met John Kenney in the mid seventies when we recruited John from Baker Botts in Houston, which as you know, is a very prestigious law firm. John, who had gone to University of Oklahoma and was an engineer, wanted to come back home. And we were really lucky that he wanted to come back home because that was such an easy choice at that point in time. And to get someone on really in the intellectual property area, an engineer who understood things like patents and copyrights and things that none of us really knew about was a blessing. Turned out he was a tremendous litigator as well, and his reputation really was way beyond the legal area.

Michael McClintock, McAfee & Taft trial lawyer

John was a tremendous mentor and taught me more than I could ever recount about the practice of law. He was one of the most thorough lawyers I’ve ever worked with, dotted every “i” crossed every “t.” The thing I would say that I learned the most from John was that you could be a cutthroat litigator and still be a gentleman in every regard doing it. It does not require what you see on TV. John had a real pastoral way about him as a person, I would say, and that that gentleness, I think, doesn’t get portrayed on TV’s the way you’re supposed to be a lawyer. But man, it’s some of the most effective trial work I’ve ever seen. And I would say of all the attorneys I’ve ever practiced with, John’s had the most jury appeal. Juries love John Kenney and they love him because he’s a gentle, nice, kind man and that just he exudes that in his everyday life. And you can’t fool the jury. They see who you really are, and they would see him as that. And he was eminently persuasive for that reason.

Spencer Smith, McAfee & Taft trial lawyer

John is an excellent trial attorney, and I learned that early on. Shortly after I came to McAfee Taft, I got the opportunity to work with him on a patent case that actually went to trial and got to see firsthand his trial advocacy skills. And then subsequently had numerous opportunities to work with him on other cases and was able to learn so much from him. Some of those lessons I took from John are: Prepare harder than the other side; I mean, we were always very well prepared. Pay attention to details. John was an exceptional legal tactician, and by that I mean he could look at the other side’s arguments or potential arguments, formulate very effective responses to those arguments, and then implement them both before and during trial in a very effective way. And I still, you know, use a lot of what I learned during those times that I had the privilege of working with John on those cases.

Rachel Blue, McAfee & Taft intellectual property lawyer

So I got to know John when I first came to McAfee & Taft. You know, everybody’s heard John, right? He is sort of a legend in Oklahoma. So before I worked here, I knew of him. But when I first got here, within the first couple of years, I had a case that I brought John in on, and it was a complicated case. It took about two years up to trial, and then it’s a three week federal trial. And there was an intricate fact set and it was some complicated technology and a client with some conflicting demands and kind of, you know, it’s just this sort of a very, very detail oriented, very complicated experience. And John was just amazing. I mean, the grace that he used to deal with the client and the challenging facts and everything was just inspirational, really. He’s a great storyteller. He really never loses his cool. He’s just quintessentially professional all the time. And, you know, you just learn so much working with him. I’ve never done anything like that before, and watching him kind of elevate the other people on the team in front of the client and in front of the judge and do it in this very quiet way. It really kind of masterful technique. And watching him with the jury being able to take this complicated technology and make it understandable for everyone in the courtroom is a skill set that not very many people have, really. And he’s just a fun person. I mean, gosh, he writes songs. He, you know, invents stuff. And the stories he has to tell are incredible. They’re just wonderful.

Mike LaBrie, McAfee & Taft intellectual property lawyer and practice group leader

John has meant a lot to the firm. John has been extremely active in the firm, long-time practice group leader, on the board of directors, mostly sharing his wisdom that he’s gleaned over the years. John is a man of of many talents, and so John is the inventor on several patents. John is a poet… a songwriter… country and western musician… deacon… went to seminary school. And so John has a lot of interests. And I think that because he was so well-rounded, it gave him kind of an upper hand. He knew how to relate to people and especially jurors, which made him, you know, very crafty in the courtroom. John, always unflappable, extremely patient and always very genuine.

Cliff Dougherty, McAfee & Taft intellectual property lawyer

I worked on a lot of patent infringement trials with John and I’m almost certain that we either one or favorably settled all of them. And there’s reasons for this. Of course, John’s very amicable and highly respected by judges, including all of the judges in Oklahoma City. And I think John’s greatest ability he has a natural gift for taking something that’s highly technical and highly complex and breaking that down in a way that judges and juries that don’t have technical backgrounds can really appreciate and understand. And I think that has a lot to do with his success. In addition to that, John was in the practice group. He was one of our early practice group leaders and helped get us going. And just overall, I think helped us integrate into McAfee & Taft and was a part of our success— the guys that came from Dougherty & Hessin — part of our success at McAfee & Taft.

Tony Rahhal, McAfee & Taft intellectual property lawyer

The group of lawyers that became the IP practice group worked with John before we came to McAfee & Taft. John was involved in some patent litigation that we all worked on and so got discussions started for us moving over here. And John was integrally involved in us moving over here. And then since that time and certainly in the beginning John was a big part of our group, has certainly been key in developing IP litigation here at the firm. And then, of course, you know, John is himself an inventor, so John has several patents that we’ve all worked on as well. So he’s been an integral part, real important in growing the group here and keeping it together.

Graham Kenney, son of John Kenney, estate and tax planning lawyer, and Ytterberg Deery Knull LLP partner

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this video honoring my father, John Kenney. To someone who saw my father’s career from the outside, both at home growing up and later as a mentor in my own career as a lawyer, I can testify to all of the characteristics that I’m sure have been mentioned in other videos — his intelligence, his hard work, his integrity, his kindness. And I can tell you, even outside of the office, these characteristics are still true. My father always does things the right way, even when the right way is not the easy way. And he’s been someone whose example I’ve always tried to live up to. I often run into former colleagues of my father from his time practicing in Texas. Without fail, they always go out of their way to tell me not only how great of a lawyer he is, but also how great of a person he is. What better compliment could you receive on a career well spent? Congratulations, dad.

Louis Price, McAfee & Taft business and real estate lawyer

Congratulations, John, on your retirement. You’ve been a fabulous asset to this law firm. Your renowned as a successful litigator is is well known. And the mentorship and leadership that you’ve provided to the young lawyers in this firm will leave a mark on the firm forever. I want to congratulate you and Jane on a successful career and I know that with the many varied interests and skills that you have, you will keep yourself busy and we’ll be seeing you from time to time, maybe, maybe even at the Grammy Awards one of these days. So congratulations and best wishes.

Tony Rahhal

John, I want to thank you very much for your friendship and mentorship over the years and wish you the best. Wish you well. Congratulations on a long and successful career.

Cliff Dougherty

John, I really appreciate working with you over the years. I highly value our friendship and I wish you and Jane a wonderful retirement in all respects.

Mike LaBrie

John, thank you for everything you’ve done. Thank you for shepherding me through the McAfee & Taft process many years ago. Best luck to you and Jane in retirement and I look forward to seeing you. I know retirement will not be idle time. Thank you.

Rachel Blue

John, I’m so glad I got the chance to practice with you. I learned so much from you. And I think everybody that’s ever practiced with you has learned so much from you. And I’m just happy to have been your partner.

Spencer Smith

John. I appreciate everything you did for me. Bringing me in on your cases, being a mentor to me, allowing me to learn from you and also giving me opportunities in those trials to actually put on witnesses and do everything else that, you know, you allowed me to do in those. So I’m just very appreciative. I wish you the best and hope you and Jane enjoy everything that you have in front of you.

Michael McClintock

John, I can’t believe you’re retired. It seems like only yesterday we were trying the rumble strip case. We miss you. Miss having you around the firm, shooting the breeze, getting advice from you and best wishes to you and your family and retirement. You really did a great job, I think. training all of us up. And hopefully we will have done for the firm and the folks under us what you did for us and someone will say nice things about us when we retire because and it’ll all be traced back to you. So thanks for everything he’s done for all of us. And we can’t thank you enough, both me personally and the firm. And hopefully, maybe we’ll get a chance to teach a Sunday school class together one day. Thanks, man.

Frank Hill

Hey, John. I hope you have a wonderful retirement. You deserve it. You’ve been a fabulous partner for many, many years. And I wish you and Janey the very best with you and your family. Thanks, John.