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Top Missouri law firms see new crop of leaders in 2019

The leadership of some of Missouri’s largest law firms is going through a generational shift of sorts.

On Jan. 1, Chase Simmons formally succeeded Russ Welsh as chairman of Polsinelli — a move that nearly coincided with the retirement of firm namesake James Polsinelli on Jan. 31.

That change comes just a year after Cameron Garrison succeeded Mark Bluhm as managing partner of Lathrop Gage. The year before that, it was Madeleine McDonough who took the helm of Shook, Hardy & Bacon from former chairman John Murphy.

Leadership in word tag cloud on whiteAnd while those transitions were long in the making, Armstrong Teasdale had the misfortune of an unplanned change when managing partner John Beulick died in late 2018. David Braswell was elected in February to succeed him.

Even among the planned successions, the replacement of so many leaders in a three-year period is largely a coincidence. At the same time, Missouri’s firms, like those everywhere, face a changing legal market and a different set of pressures from clients.

“You like to think that it’s only a profession, but it is a business,” said McDonough. “I think the focus on client expectations has caused firms to look a little deeper and say ‘We need people who are really client-focused.’”

McDonough, the first woman to lead Shook, said there has been a greater interest from clients in diversity. That’s particularly important for a trial firm whose lawyers go before increasingly diverse juries and judges.

Garrison said Lathrop wanted to be sure it had a client-centered approach and understood how companies needed the firm to approach and bill for cases.

“I think it was the partners of our firm wanting to have the next leader be one that was focused on continuing to be a progressive firm, one that is embracing the new way of practicing law,” he said.

Simmons agreed that there is a “symbiotic” relationship between the law firms and the clients they serve. That hasn’t necessarily resulted in a drastically change for Polsinelli — Simmons said he still talks to Welsh “every other day” and sees no need to make dramatic changes to Polsinelli’s long-term goals.

“There was no reason in the world to change leadership other than you know at some point you’re going to need to do it, so do it on your timeframe,” Simmons said.

Braswell also said he’s following the work of his predecessor.

“I’m going to do my best to carry on in his tradition and honor his memory by continuing to guide the firm in a way that I think he would be comfortable with,” he said.

It has, however, demonstrated the critical nature of succession planning.

“We are all perhaps more mindful of the fact that there are no certainties in life. There are no guarantees,” Braswell said. A succession plan is “like insurance: You don’t really think about it until you need it.”

Read more MOney 2019:



New Leaders

The Numbers

Firm Profiles

The Firms

Digital Edition