Polsinelli’s CEO Chase Simmons is clear about his firm’s goals.
“We’re trying to keep diversity and inclusion top of mind throughout the organization,” he said.
That can be seen in the numbers. The firm’s summer associate class this year is 60 percent people of color and/or LGBTQ+. More than half of the class members are women.
That has begun to translate into leadership as well. The 850-lawyer firm’s St. Louis, Atlanta, Chicago and Denver offices are led by female managing partners, while women chair several of Polsinelli’s large national practice groups, ranging from health care to labor and employment.
“The main thing is that they are excellent leaders and they are great for our culture,” said Simmons. “I think they send a good message to younger lawyers of what we’re about as an organization when they can see successful women who are balancing both practicing law and their clients with leadership.”
Named a “top five” firm in 2017 by Law360 for its diversity efforts, Polsinelli, which has 22 offices nationwide, followed up last year by winning the Jackson County Bar Association’s Pyramid Diversity Award for its recruitment, retention and promotion of minorities in the Kansas City area. This year it earned a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which measures workplaces on their treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals.
But Simmons says inclusion isn’t about chasing awards and recognition. It isn’t even a matter of pleasing clients who increasingly demand diversity from firms.
“For us, first and foremost, this is about talent,” he said. “We want our lawyers to reflect the talent of the business community in the places that we operate. We just feel like if you are not creating a diverse and inclusive environment, then you are missing out on talent.”
Polsinelli hasn’t had that problem. In June, three of its attorneys were named to Lawyers of Color’s “Nation’s Best” list.
From recruitment and promotions to building committees and even setting up meetings, the firm — which has employed a full-time director of inclusion since 2016 — has worked hard to include a multiplicity of voices. To a degree, that has involved examining data and setting up formal processes, but more important, the firm strives to germinate a corporate ethos that embraces the concept.
“I don’t think you can really impact a large organization like ours with a particular position or procedure or anything like that,” Simmons said. “I think it is the culture. I think it is a recognition that we have driven this into our culture.”
Polsinelli is a member of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, which allows it to mentor underrepresented first-year law students across the country. The firm also funds numerous diversity-focused legal groups and organizations across Missouri in an effort to promote inclusivity. It has hosted implicit bias training sessions, and it issues a quarterly newsletter on the topic for employees and clients.
“It is just trying to build awareness within the firm, and it is something we share with clients as well, highlighting these issues and highlighting our progress,” Simmons said. “We’re not afraid to be critical as well. It highlights areas sometimes where we need to make progress.”
That progress continues in recruitment, too. In addition to the $30,000 it awards in scholarship money to underrepresented law students, the firm also works with the Diverse Attorney Pipeline Program to identify candidates for its summer internships.
“The recruiters we have in-house know that this is one of the most important things that they are looking for,” Simmons said. “They use that data and the conversations that we have with the diversity committee to make sure that diversity is a priority in recruiting.”
And diversity in recruitment isn’t limited to law schools. The firm also looks at lateral recruitment to fill its senior ranks. Polsinelli added four new African American and four Hispanic shareholders during the past year.
“Those recruiters have access to all of our data, so if there is a practice group that we feel like it is not making progress that we’d like, they can help us address that,” Simmons said.