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Pamela Meanes, partner, Thompson Coburn

Pamela Meanes holds a prominent position at one of St. Louis’ biggest law firms, but it was being president of the National Bar Association that thrust her into the national spotlight.

Meanes took office as NBA president in July 2014. The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson on Aug. 9, 2014, led the organization to develop the “Fight Against Police Brutality” initiative.

The program filed open records requests in 25 states, including Missouri and Illinois, seeking information on the number of unarmed individuals killed or injured while being pursued by police or in police custody. Meanes also led the NBA, the nation’s oldest and largest predominantly African-American bar association, to develop programs to teach young people about Constitutional rights, pushed for police reform at the federal level and served as a source of legal information in local and national media interviews.

The work was personal to her as a mother and an African-American woman. She also felt that it was part of the NBA’s duty to work for change.

Thompson Coburn attorney Pamela Meanes is an MLA 2015 Influential lawyer.  Photo by Karen Elshout

Thompson Coburn attorney Pamela Meanes is an MLA 2015 Influential lawyer. Photo by Karen Elshout

“As a mother, the thought one of my children could be shot terrifies me, and it motivated me to bring the resources of the NBA and its membership to bear on this ongoing problem,” Meanes said.

Meanes specializes in litigation and has represented clients including Fifth Third Bank, Kroger and the Metropolitan Sewer District. As an attorney, she was instrumental in helping the Bistate Development Agency expand Metrolink service to Illinois.

Law was not Meanes’ original field of choice. She had planned to pursue a doctorate in English and earned a master’s degree in African-American literature from Clark Atlanta University. During her final year in graduate school, the campus experienced unrest following the acquittal of Los Angeles police officers in the beating of Rodney King. As graduate student president, Meanes was asked to help calm the tensions on the campus and negotiate with Atlanta’s mayor and prosecutor to prevent student protesters from being criminally charged.

“It was at that point I decided I could better serve my community by going into the area of law instead of being a professor of English,” Meanes said.

Meanes headed to law school at the University of Iowa and then found a professional home at Thompson Coburn. Eventually, Meanes became the firm’s first African-American associate to be promoted to partner.

Meanes credits Thompson Coburn with helping her balance the challenge of work at a major law firm with leadership of a major national organization and family life. The firm has helped her manage her workload, attend conferences, and utilize the firm’s creative and event-planning services.

“Thompson Coburn has always been a partner with me in every social initiative that I have taken on,” Meanes said. “We strongly encourage lawyers to become involved in the community and to give back to the community. Part of our evaluation of associates is looking at what our associates have done outside of the practice of law.”