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Denise K. Drake- Polsinelli

denise-drakeThe titles are many for Denise K. Drake: shareholder, practice chair, author, leader and mentor. The one she most embraces is lawyer-mom.

In a 27-year legal career, the chair of Polsinelli’s employment litigation practice group has racked up scores of defense verdicts, won over countless clients and inspired not only younger female lawyers at the firm but also those at other firms in Kansas City and beyond.

All while growing a family that now numbers one husband, two sons, three stepdaughters, one “bonus” son (a young man who lived with her and her husband for a few years after college and became part of the family), and a 4-month-old granddaughter.

While such a successful work-life balance can still be a challenge for many these days, regardless of gender, Drake’s journey is all the more striking in light of an undergraduate advisor’s admonition to her at Iowa State University in the early ’80s.

“He said, ‘Oh honey, you’re going to have to go to school for seven years, and women lawyers can’t really have babies,’” she recalled.

The chauvinistic broadside didn’t deter Drake, though, as she would go on to graduate first in her class from the University of Kansas School of Law.

But armed with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and communications from Iowa State, she first spent three years in human resources at American Century Investments. It was there where her interest in employment law took shape.

“The laws were changing rapidly. And the company was sort of in its infancy, so I got to see many policies, procedures, training presentations built from the ground up,” Drake said. “It was just fascinating.”

After KU, Drake spent a year clerking for Judge John R. Gibson of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals before joining the Kansas City firm known at the time as Spencer Fane Britt & Browne. She would spend more than 16 years there, rising to director of litigation and partner.

Drake also spent two years as partner at Husch Blackwell and six years at Littler Mendelson, including a stint as office managing shareholder, before joining Polsinelli in January 2016.

You could say a law career was preordained for the daughter of a teacher of court reporters at a Des Moines business school. At home, Mom played albums of court transcripts while her eager daughter soaked up the courtroom dialogue.

Her nominators cited Drake’s “leadership and litigation skills” as well as her “magnetic commitment to grooming future leaders.”

It’s a role that Drake says is both purposeful and, despite the gains of women in the law since her time at Iowa State, still vital.

“We’re in a time of evolution,” she said. “We see many, many more women in the courtroom now. But it does take a conscious commitment to make sure they get the opportunities they need to get there.”