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WJA 2020: Debbie Rush, Thompson Coburn

Debbie Rush said many things have changed in the world of law since she joined what then was known as Thompson & Mitchell, but one of the best has been seeing more women in leadership roles than she did in her days as a rookie attorney.

Now a Thompson Coburn shareholder, Rush grew up in Potosi and studied occupational therapy at the University of Missouri. She graduated in 1983 and worked at a hospital before earning a MBA from Saint Louis University in 1988. From there, she went on to law school, graduating in 1991 from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law.

Debbie Rush

Rush

“It took a while to figure out the path, so to say,” she said.

During her law studies, she became a summer associate at Thompson & Mitchell. She’s been with the firm ever since — climbing the ladder, mentoring young attorneys and spending eight years on its management committee.

As chair of Thompson Coburn’s public finance practice, she is a primary legal advisor to banks, developers, public entities and investment bankers, serving as underwriter, bond, bank and developer counsel on hundreds of multimillion-dollar municipal, public-private, retail and commercial projects.

Recent projects on which she’s served as underwriter or bond counsel include the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s new complex in north St. Louis, the Loews Kansas City Convention Center Hotel and the redeveloped Stifel Theatre in St. Louis.

Through her career, Rush said, she has learned that time management is crucial to success, and so is not driving yourself crazy while trying to keep up with the rapid pace of today’s digital communication.

“Over the last several years, the expectation from the world is that we are responding almost immediately to whatever the request is,” she said. “It’s not that it’s hard to manage the clients — it’s figuring out how to get it all done to make the work product you want to put out the door. The solution to that is having a good team with you internally.”

Rush also chairs Thompson Coburn’s marketing committee, and she played a key role in creating the firm’s Women’s Initiative Committee, which focuses on women’s professional and business development as well as leadership training.

The committee helped to develop the firm’s mentorship program and Women’s Leadership Academy, which aids young female partners in reaching leadership positions in the firm. The firm has incorporated some of the ideas developed during the leadership academy in its strategic planning.

“It’s been nice to see those ideas coming out of the women’s leadership academy implemented as part of the firm’s strategic plan,” Rush said. “In some ways, the women’s initiative has grown from something that was a small group of us getting together several years ago to something that is part of the firm’s culture and fabric now. It’s been interesting to see that. Some of the women who have been actively involved in the initiative are on our management committee now.”

Others have gone on to management positions as chair and co-chair of firm practices, she noted: “That’s been a direct result of a lot of the work of the Women’s Initiative.”

Rush said she also wants to develop a team of practitioners and support staff who can take over her practice and clients when she retires — whenever that may be. For now, she wants to keep practicing full-time and developing expert teams within her department and practice to ensure the transition unfolds as seamlessly as possible.

“It’s a bit of a long-term goal,” she said. “As the senior attorneys in the group decide to wind down their practice, [it’s important] that we have a strong group to continue that.”

2020 Women's Justice Awards