When Russ Welsh joined Polsinelli in 1986, the firm had about 30 lawyers in a single office in Kansas City.
Today the firm boasts more than 800 lawyers across the country in offices from Los Angeles to New York.
Much of that growth has occurred under Welsh’s leadership as firm chairman in the last 20 years, with Polsinelli growing from 90 to 800 attorneys since he took the post in 1998.
At the end of this year, Chase Simmons will become chairman. The succession plan was announced in May 2017.
Looking back on his time as chairman, Welsh said what he is most proud of isn’t necessarily the growth in terms of numbers, but quality of attorneys the firm has attracted.
“I think what I’m most proud of is the number of really first-rate lawyers who’ve joined our firm and broadened our platform and depth of practice,” he said. “It really is the quality of the people who joined us.”
He said there is also an ongoing legacy apart from his own legacy that will live on after his chairmanship.
“There are really strong leaders in a lot of practices that will continue in years to come,” he said. “A good part of that is we’ve worked to constantly bring young lawyers into the leadership roles.”
Welsh said part of the firm’s growth can be attributed to firm leaders’ focus on its clients.
“When we started growing, before we embarked on a path to where we are today, we sat back and looked at what we could accomplish,” he said. “We were certainly opportunistic in that regard, but it was built on focusing on the type of clients we had and what kind of clients we wanted to have.”
Welsh said that process was based on examining the firm’s strengths and weaknesses, and building from there.
Welsh said a key strategy has been to focus on practice areas where the firm could expand and become known for its expertise.
He ticked off the areas of healthcare, financial services, IP and real estate, and noted some larger national firms have abandoned practices in those areas.
“We could, from the Midwest, use our Missouri base to capture a better cost structure and penetrate larger markets,” he said.
Welsh said after Simmons takes up the role of chairman on Jan. 1, 2019, he plans to remain with the firm another eight to 10 months to continue assisting with transition efforts, then retire.
“I think it’s appropriate to step away and let someone else take it and not just have me back there,” he said.
Welsh said he’s been fortunate to have supportive partners who have understood the firm’s strategy and embraced it.
“There hasn’t been a lot of division at this firm as there are at others,” he said.
So far, he said the transition has been smooth.
“We’re all looking forward to the future,” he said.