When Vincent D. Reese made the leap from one of St. Louis’ largest law firms to Mickes O’Toole in 2016, he did so knowing the move potentially could afford him greater leadership opportunities.
What he didn’t expect was just how quickly the opportunity would present itself: In 2017, less than a year after joining, he became the firm’s managing partner.
Under his leadership, Mickes O’Toole has seen a 66 percent growth in headcount and has increased diversity. The firm has increased from 12 attorneys to 20 and has added practice areas.
“We tried to grow and diversify ourselves over the past three years as one of our strategic objectives,” Reese said. “We expect to continue to grow and diversify ourselves going forward.”
In addition to its more diverse practice areas, the firm itself has grown to support and encourage more diverse attorneys and leadership. Today, women and people of color make up 70 percent of the firm’s attorneys, 70 percent of the firm’s partners and 78 percent of the firm’s staff altogether.
At the beginning of 2019, the firm also became minority-owned — Reese believes the firm is the largest minority-owned firm in the state. He’s passionate about showing the business case for diversity and what his firm has accomplished.
“We have the ability to really demonstrate the case for diversity and how we can thrive and be successful, which I hope others will then try to emulate,” he said.
Reese said his interest in the legal profession began in high school. After obtaining an undergraduate degree in criminal justice from Truman State University in 1991, he worked briefly in law enforcement, then as a customer-service manager and a mortgage broker. He eventually decided to go to law school at Washington University, where he graduated in 1999.
From there, he joined Lewis Rice, where he found his practice area of labor and employment law. He rose from associate to non-equity partner, then equity partner, becoming only the third African American in the firm’s history to become a non-equity or equity partner.
At Lewis Rice, he began his labor and employment law practice. In 2007, his work in that space led him into education and school law when he took on the St. Louis Public School District as a client.
When the opportunity to join Mickes O’Toole arose, he and two of his Lewis Rice colleagues made the move.
Reese said the overlap between his practice areas and the firm’s — Mickes O’Toole is known for its education-law focus — and the opportunity to potentially work for a minority-owned firm were big draws.
“I think all the things that we thought going into this — all the reasons why I made the move — I’m pleased that they all came through the way we hoped and expected,” he said.
Reflecting on the state of diversity in the legal profession through his 20-year career, Reese said in some respects, the field has changed for the better. In others, progress has stalled.
“While there’s certainly been a lot of talk and a lot of people recognizing the problem, I just don’t think we’ve made nearly enough progress in that regard,” he said.
He noted that the leadership ranks of large law firms tend “to not be a very diverse group and not a very representative group.”
In coming to Mickes O’Toole, he said he had a unique opportunity to practice what he preaches in terms of diversity.
“I think we’ve been able to do that,” he said.