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More Missouri firms added partners in 2017

Watching the number of new partners at Missouri law firms is sort of like watching the stock market or the ocean: Short-term ups and downs aren’t always the best indicator of what’s going on beneath the surface.


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Missouri Lawyers Weekly’s 2018 New Partners list includes 131 attorneys from 37 law firms who were promoted to partner during the past year. Last year’s list featured almost the same number of attorneys, representing just 30 firms. From one angle, that means the average number of new partners per firm has fallen. But it also indicates that more firms chose to add new partners, whether through promotions or lateral hires.

The New Partners list is based on emailed surveys completed by Missouri law firms, supplemented with information from news releases about new hires throughout the year. It includes new partners named in 2017 after the cutoff for last year’s list, as well those announced in the first few weeks of 2018. As such, our listings may differ slightly from internal counts of firms. The list of in-state attorneys includes those on the Illinois side of the St. Louis metropolitan area, as well as the Kansas side of the Kansas City region.

Between the needs of the firms and the vagaries of the market, it’s not unusual for the number of new partners to swing wildly in any given year.

Some seemingly modest expansions in Missouri represent a small part of much larger national growth. Polsinelli, Missouri’s second-largest firm by revenue, added nine new in-state shareholders in 2017, down from 19 in the previous year. Yet the firm also named 67 new shareholders in offices ranging from Phoenix to Washington D.C. Overall, Polsinelli had added 76 shareholders as of late January, far exceeding Missouri’s largest firm by revenue, Bryan Cave, which added 30 partners nationwide.

That growth in partners mirrors Polsinelli’s growth in size. The firm, which has about 350 attorneys in Missouri, continues to add and expand its out-of-state offices, making it the state’s fastest-growing large law firm.

“I’d say broadly, from a size perspective, we’re comfortable where we are in Missouri,” Polsinelli’s incoming chairman, Chase Simmons, said in an interview.

Simmons is a personal expert on the firm’s promotion requirements, having started at the firm as a summer clerk in law school. He said promotions are driven more by the needs of the firm’s various practice groups than any specific target for numbers of promotions. He also said that while young associates are always encouraged to be on a partnership track, it’s critical for them to develop a particular expertise.

“The one word we say about becoming a partner is, they need to become indispensable to the firm,” he said.

Cristian Stevens, left, a former federal prosecutor, and Donald Flack, a former Illinois trial judge, are among a handful of recent lateral hires at Missouri firms who are translating significant records of public service into successful private practices. They are among the new partners to join Armstrong Teasdale’s St. Louis office in the past year. Photo by T.L. Witt

Husch Blackwell added the single largest number of partners in Missouri last year, with 13 hired or promoted partners. That’s a dramatic increase from the three new partners it added in 2016, but not far from the 16 new partners named in the year before that. Husch also added 14 partners in its other U.S. offices.

Of course, the addition of those new partners is balanced against Husch’s announcement in November that about 40 attorneys at the partner or of-counsel level were set to leave the firm due to “retirements and other year-end transitions.”

In an email, Paul Eberle, Husch’s chief executive, said the firm’s equity-partner headcount was basically flat, declining by less than 1 percent. He added that the firm is excited about its new partners.

“We are adding depth and expertise in Missouri and in many other markets,” he wrote. “We expect to continue to grow by adding new talent to the firm while appropriately managing expenses and performance at the same time.”

HeplerBroom saw this year’s largest single drop in number of new partners, from 19 in 2016 to just one in 2017 (plus three in its Chicago office). Its partner class last year included six lateral hires, which tend to fluctuate more than internal promotions.

Shook, Hardy & Bacon reported adding 11 new partners in Missouri in 2015 but none in 2016. That wasn’t due to a hiring collapse but rather an accounting quirk: The firm now announces new partners in March, rather than January. As expected, Shook named five new partners at its Kansas City office in March 2017 as well as another five promotions in out-of-state offices and several lateral hires throughout the year.


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Laterals were a particularly important part of the partnership scene, with several high-profile switches between firms. Early in 2017, four intellectual property partners and an associate left Harness Dickey to join Husch in St. Louis. In October, a large portion of Lathrop Gage’s healthcare practice left to join Spencer Fane.

That same month, Spencer Fane also snapped up Pete Heaven, also formerly of Lathrop and a longtime city attorney for Merriam, Kansas. Around the same time, Joseph Hipskind Jr. joined Armstrong Teasdale after 17 years at Stinson Leonard Street. And Shook scored a significant out-of-state lateral gain in early 2018 when its San Francisco office absorbed three former attorneys from the now-defunct Sedgwick law firm, including Sedgwick’s former chairman, Michael F. Healy.

Altogether, 27 percent of new partners in this year’s list represent lateral hires, up from 23 percent the prior year.

A few other notable numbers:

• Female partners, whether promoted or newly hired, made up 30 percent of this year’s list. That’s down slightly from last year’s report, which found that women made up nearly 35 percent of a similarly sized list. Still, three out of 10 female partners exceeds the overall proportion of female partners at Missouri firms, which is about 20 percent according to a 2015 study by the Missouri Supreme Court’s Joint Commission on Women in the Profession.

• The lion’s share of this year’s new partners — 81 lawyers, or nearly 62 percent of the list — practice in the St. Louis region. As Missouri’s largest legal market, St. Louis usually features the most new partners. This year’s proportion is up slightly from last year, when about 60 percent of new partners were in St. Louis.

• Saint Louis University School of Law remains the most frequent alma mater. Thirty-five of this year’s new partners earned their law degrees from SLU, nearly equal to the combined number of graduates of Washington University, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Missouri. This year’s batch of new partners showed a steep drop-off in attendance at Missouri’s flagship school. Just nine new partners went to MU, down from 24 the prior year. A much larger number — 19 partners — attended its archrival, the University of Kansas, though most of those attorneys work on the Kansas side of the Kansas City metro area.

Freelance researcher Jennie Goodman contributed to this report.