During one of the most tumultuous times for the legal services market, Kansas City-based Polsinelli has been a model of consistency and expansive growth. Now, the firm is preparing for its next strategic phase under Chase Simmons—the first time the firm has changed its CEO in about 20 years.
Polsinelli’s revenue has nearly tripled since 2009, to $475 million in 2017, as its head count has more than doubled to 783 lawyers in 2017.
The firm can trace much of that success back to a business model that stands out for its clarity among Big Law firms. Polsinelli has focused on a core group of practices: health care, real estate, financial services, middle-market corporate transactions and intellectual property. More recently, it has added labor and employment to that mix.
Polsinelli’s leadership has taken the view that some large law firms were pricing themselves out of work in those practice groups and the firm’s Kansas City and Midwest roots provided a lower-cost basis to compete in more markets.
The firm’s Chicago presence and its health care practice are prime examples. The firm in 2006 moved into Chicago, where today it has more than 100 lawyers in one of the city’s newest office buildings. The firm’s national health care practice consisted of 18 lawyers in 2008. Today it’s composed of more than 120 attorneys.
Simmons, who started as CEO on Jan. 1, said the firm has largely accomplished the city- and practice-specific growth plan it set out on about a decade ago under former CEO Russell Welsh.
“Quite frankly, we’ve built that out,” Simmons said in an interview with The American Lawyer. “We have the practices we want. We don’t have major holes to fill. And we are in the regions and cities we want to be in. It’s not to say we will never add another city or practice, but it is time to optimize and add some depth and to serve the clients and grow with them in the practice area and geographic areas we set out on.”
Simmons said this new phase—adding depth in the firm’s existing practices and offices—will be, in some ways, “easier” than educating legal buyers of their brand in an entirely new city. And he is preparing the firm for a modern legal market that grapples with technology.
Simmons has said that the firm is preparing for a market where there is universal access to legal information and clients are only paying for “judgment, negotiation, applying industry expertise to the law.”
“We have been trying to get out of service offerings that are all about gatekeeping: ‘You have to come to us because we’re the only ones that can find an answer to that,’” Simmons said in an interview. “The answer is becoming easier to find, as to what the law is and what the regulation is. It’s now a question of: What do you do about that and how do you deal with intricate situations? How do you negotiate? How do you stay current with new ideas in the market?”
Simmons, who was previously real estate chair at Polsinelli, said there is no “fear” at his firm about how technology will impact the practice or business of law. But there is a broader question in the industry about how technology will impact the demand for tasks such as contract review that young lawyers have traditionally handled. Simmons said he does not foresee a future legal market where firms are not hiring first-year lawyers, but he said it is an open question about how those young lawyers will be trained.
“How do we make sure that young lawyers still get trained with a basic legal education and skill set that we expect?” Simmons said. “Because you can’t transport someone from a first-year associate to a five- or six-year associate level. So that is what we focus on as a firm. And so you spend more effort on professional development and training. And we as a firm have more resources to apply to those things than we did when we were smaller.”