This mid-market national firm promotes entrepreneurialism with a charming Midwestern twist.
“I hadn’t heard of a top-100 firm in the Midwest, let alone Kansas City!” one formerly astonished associate told us. Their eyes were opened, however, when they came across Polsinelli and realized that great firms do emerge from locations outside of the core BigLaw markets lining the US coasts. Polsinelli’s humble origins can be traced back to 1972, when the eponymous Jim Polsinelli opened up shop in Kansas City, which is still home to the largest segment of the firm’s attorneys. Polsinelli is now a 21-office operation and “one of a handful of large US-only firms,” chairman and CEO Chase Simmons tells us. For the firm’s lawyers, “it’s really about being part of a national platform and network, so people can work on the biggest matters with colleagues across the country [...] from an associate standpoint, that’s our niche and we’re hoping to lean into that,” Simmons explains.
"...interesting and dynamic things have been happening in the middle market.”
Being able to work with others freely came up in our interviews, with this junior pointing out that “people share information and no one gatekeeps their work; everyone wants to work together, and they encourage juniors to work with as many people as possible!” Our sources had various practice area-oriented motivations for joining Polsinelli, ranging from technology and data privacy to broad transactional and healthcare matters. The latter is a significant area of strength for the firm: Chambers USA ranks Polsinelli’s nationwide healthcare practice in ‘the elite’ category and recognizes its expertise on this front in various states. Real estateis another decorated practice for Polsinelli in the Midwest, while its IPcapabilities are especially praised in DC. Other areas that regularly feature in the firm’s rankings across states include corporate/M&A; labor & employment; white-collar crime & government investigations; general commercial litigation; and bankruptcy & restructuring.
Strategy & Future
“We continue to be a mid-market firm,” says Simmons. “Over the last ten to 15 years, there has been a lot of growth: interesting and dynamic things have been happening in the middle market.” Simmons goes on to explain that Polsinelli continues to be “extremely busy in our transactional practices” and has been “growing a lot at the associate level – if you look at our net growth in the last three years, almost all of it has been at associate level.” The considerations behind growth are always driven by clients, Simmons adds: “A few areas that have seen growth over the last year have been healthcare (including healthcare transactions), private equity, real estate, and finance.” There’s also a new motto that’s shaping life at the firm, which Simmons tells us is “’What a law firm should be.’ It’s part of our website and our external branding, but also an internal challenge. A lot of companies in the world are entering a post-COVID atmosphere, and we felt like it was the time to challenge ourselves to be what we believe law firms should be.” The firm told us that maintaining a caring environment that valueseffective management, creativity, entrepreneurship and diversity is a key endeavor that's represented by the 'What a law firm should be' motto.
Polsinelli’s Kansas City andChicagooffices housed just over half of the juniors on our list, with the rest spread fairly evenly across the firm’s national bases. Practice areas with higher concentrations of juniors included real estate; healthcare; technology transactions & data privacy; corporate & transactional; and commercial litigation. For the most part, juniors find work through a free-market system, although each group and office has slight variations on assignment structures. “You’re encouraged to take work from all shareholders [Polsinelli’s term for partners],” an insider told us. “It does take some proactiveness to reach out and make connections with different shareholders,” another said, which was largely in line with the firm’s entrepreneurial spirit. We heard some groups also had a portal that associates could use to log their workload and availability.
"You’re giving them weekly updates and taking them through the different paths they could take.”
Polsinelli’s healthcare department is divided in five practices: healthcare alignment and organization; healthcare litigation and disputes; healthcare operations; public policy; and FDA law. Healthcare litigation housed the most juniors in the department, with the sub-team further split into specialty groups, including government investigations, managed care, and class actions. “Our matters involve a lot of cross-collaboration between groups,” we heard. Juniors within healthcare litigation are often tasked with conducting doc review and plenty of research projects. As you can imagine, this bunch had their hands full throughout the pandemic, dealing with constant day-to-day developments. Assisting with internal investigations was a highlight, “as you get to interface with the client a lot, so you’re giving them weekly updates and taking them through the different paths they could take.”
Healthcare clients: Deerfield Healthcare Technology Acquisitions, InTandem Capital Partners, Timely Telehealth. Represented InTandem during its acquisition of a fertility practice based in San Diego.
Polsinelli’s real estate offering is full service,so covers everything and anything from acquisitions to dispositions, easements and entitlements. As well as more typical development and transactional work – which offers associates a good amount of contract-handling experience – there’s also a niche government incentives group that advises on the formation of public-private partnerships. This lot often work with municipalities on things like property taxes and bond issuances, giving juniors the chance to work directly with clients and the local government. The real estate bunch also tackle zoning and land use matters, which involve working with public developers and researching city and municipal codes.
Real estate clients: Block Real Estate Services, Bridge33 Capital, Opus Development Company. Assisted Bridge33 with the acquisition of Belmar Shopping Center, a shopping and dining space in Colorado.
The corporate & transactional department at Polsinelli houses multiple subgroups, including M&A, private equity, and venture capital to name just a few. On the M&A front, juniors were mostly staffed on deals in the private sphere, which involved a number of healthcare clients – “it’s something Polsinelli has excelled at in the past couple of years.” The private equity team handles matters tied to a range of industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, technology, and telecommunications. “A lot of work comes in from the Dallas and Houston offices,” a source in Kansas City said, “but there has been drastic growth in new local tech companies over the last five years.” Associates’ responsibility levels varied depending on the size of the team and the scope of the deal. Drafting ancillary documents was a common task, which served as a “good exercise for us to prep for core merger and purchase agreements.” Oftentimes, our sources were the main point of contact and found themselves liaising with clients and internal specialists.
Corporate clients: Tech Accel, Big 12 Conference, Artio Medical. Advises the Big 12 Conference, a national college athletic conference, on matters including media rights agreements.
“Oftentimes you’re dealing with ransom negotiators, and you have to carry out forensic investigations to figure out how they got in and what they exfiltrated.”
The technology transactions & data privacy department is split into two groups: technology transactions and privacy & cybersecurity, which includes incident response work. On the incident response side, juniors are paired up with a senior associate or a shareholder, and teams take turns responding to matters that come in through the central reporting email. “There’s never a dull day at work!” a junior told us. “When a new matter comes in, within a few hours we’ll be on a scoping call with the victim of the attack. Oftentimes you’re dealing with ransom negotiators, and you have to carry out forensic investigations to figure out how they got in and what they exfiltrated.” The team works for financial institutions, hospitals, educational institutions, and retail stores among others. “We have clients nationwide, and we work with associates across the country, so it really shows that we are available 24/7.” Juniors have to be in the know about new privacy laws and are regularly counseling clients so they can be ready to tackle a matter within a short time. “You have to be detail-oriented and be able to communicate efficiently for different audiences, because we’re constantly dealing with a high volume of matters from different industries,” an insider explained.
Tech transactions & data privacy clients: Flickr, TripleBlind, Riverside Assessments. Provides outside privacy counsel to Iovance Biotherapeutics, a biopharmaceutical startup.
“The firm fosters an environment where you can have great relationships with your seniors,” an insider explained, before attributing this to the firm’s more manageable mid-size dimensions. Newbies are assigned a supervising shareholder and a supervising senior associate who are there to lend a helping hand, but sources also “developed mentor relationships with others more informally.” Another interviewee told us that during slower periods the firm “encouraged associates to take CLE courses to develop their skills. They really emphasize you figuring out what career development means to you and supporting you down that road.”
“They really want us to invest in our careers here and act like owners, because one day we will be owners of the firm.”
In terms of partnership, our sources had seen colleagues “come up through the ranks.” A case in point: chairman and CEO Chase Simmons joined the firm as a summer associate.An insider explained: “They tell us they really want us to invest in our careers here and act like owners, because one day we will be owners of the firm.” But those looking to make the jump to in-house positions will be pleased to hear that the firm is largely supportive of this as well: “Partners have helped associates land in-house positions. If they hear it's what you want, they are always willing to pool their sources and get you references.”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,900 target
First-years can count up to 25shadowing hours toward their billable target. This allowance covers attending training and CLE sessions; accompanying a shareholder to a hearing or a meeting; and listening in on client calls. Associates can also bill up to 50 pro bono hours each year (but can get approval for more and cover DE&I activities within this 50-hour allowance, too). Most of our interviewees estimated billing around 40 to 50 hours during an average week. “The hours were a big draw for me,” a source disclosed. “There are no hidden surprises!” Sources hadn’t escaped an hour here and there on the weekends, but they assured us that spill-over work “isn’t disgustingly inappropriate!”
“I’m able to work on national projects, doing the things I love, while living in an area where I can afford to buy a house.”
In terms of compensation, first-year associates working in Kansas City do not get the same hefty amounts as those in New York (the base salary is $170,000 in the former and $200,000 in the latter), but sources pitched Polsinelli as a market leader in the firm’s home city. “I’m able to work on national projects, doing the things I love, while living in an area where I can afford to buy a house,” an associate beamed. On the bonus front, associates shared that one is tied to billable hours, while another is merit-based and awarded to those who have impressed in various respects. In 2021, “the firm also gave out mid-year bonuses to those who were on track to hit the billable target,” a content source told us. The firm has also given out periodic bonuses in 2022, too.
While the volume of standard client billable work may have made it tricky for some interviewees to fit pro bono in, we heard that “Polsinelli encourages us to get involved in it from the start.” If an associate finds themselves working on a pro bono matter that exceeds the 50-hour billable threshold, “you can go beyond that with chair approval and get additional credit.” On one transactional matter a source enthused: “I got to run the whole deal and meet the client. It was a great experience to cut my teeth on when starting out.” We heard from juniors who told us that all their pro bono hours counted toward their billable target and were factored into their merit bonus. We were also told that there’s a pro bono champion award for those who go above and beyond on pro bono matters. Pro bono opportunities at Polsinelli span various areas, including IP patent support, immigration and asylum work, adoption matters, and community economic projects.
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: undisclosed
- Average per (US) attorney: undisclosed
“There’s a really friendly, Midwestern feel to the firm,” reported one source, while another also highlighted location as an influence on firm culture: “This might be unique to the Midwest – there’s a tight-knit culture here, where senior associates and shareholders stop by your office to see how you’re doing.” Another interviewee agreed and told us that “people tend to be willing to talk to you about whatever: you can schedule lunches with a shareholder – they’re very willing to do that!” This collegial Midwestern edge doesn’t detract from Polsinelli’s approach to work, however: “At present there’s a lot of emphasis on the firm’s entrepreneurial nature, the type of clients you want to work with, the type of work you want to do, and getting early responsibility. You can make your experience what you want it to be here.”
"It’s a testament to the firm’s desire to invest in you and your career development.”
With all the accounts of a friendly atmosphere, we weren’t surprised to hear that “it’s events galore over here” in Kansas City, as this source explained: “We’ve got Topgolf, we go to nice restaurants, and they’ve given us a card to use at the bar downstairs as well! You can get a couple free drinks for a guest too, so you can host clients. It’s a testament to the firm’s desire to invest in you and your career development.” Our interviewees also expressed their excitement for an upcoming firm retreat (which was held in Austin), as well as the return of in-person summer events in 2022. Praise was also bestowed on the firm’s promotion of a work/life balance: “Everyone works just as hard as any other lawyers, but at the end of the day you can go home and enjoy dinner with your family.” At the time of our research, the firm was taking a hybrid approach to working, leaving it up to individual group and shareholder needs to determine when attorneys were advised to come into the office.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
“I was pleased to see that three sub-chairs of the healthcare practice are women,” a junior said. “Not only does it show women in leadership positions, but it also shows that there are opportunities for women to be promoted – including those who have taken time off for maternity leave.” Associates felt that ethnic diversity needed to improve but were encouraged by the number of “associate-led groups that give platforms to people of color.” Simmons explains that the firm has recently adopted a new strategic plan which is “focused on diversity and inclusion at the top of the organization.” He elaborates that “the broader goal” is to realize that “we haven’t done the job until the firm’s leadership reflects the makeup of our associates and our communities.”
OCIs and Callbacks
OCI applicants interviewed 2022: 406
Polsinelli participates in OCIs at over 30 universities across the country. Members of the firm’s Strategic Recruiting and Hiring Committee and university alumni who practice at Polsinelli all conduct interviews; the number of interviews depends on how many applications the firm receives, ranging from one to 20 interviews per OCI event.
The firm also attends a number of diversity-driven careers fairs, including the Southeastern Minority Job Fair, the Hispanic National Bar Association Job Fair and the Cook County Bar Association Minority Job Fair.
Those who make it to the callback stage complete a 30-minute virtual interview with partners and associates.
Clerks are hired on a case-by-case basis.
Top tips: “Demonstrate superior academic credentials; strong work ethic; and exceptional writing and analytical skills,” an insider at the firm told us, adding: “We look for demonstrated leadership ability in prior work and academic experience, and well-rounded, personable individuals who are self-motivated and confident in their abilities.”
Offers 2022: 58
Summer associates will work alongside associates and partners for ten weeks across different practice areas. Students get involved in all sorts of tasks, like drafting motions, examining data to help formulate strategies for clients and analyzing the probable outcome of cases.
There are multiple social events and training sessions to increase networking opportunities: “The goal of our summer associate program is to encourage students to drive initiatives, cultivate relationships and to provide first-hand law firm experience,” a representative of the firm told us. It’s worth noting that Polsinelli has a high return rate when it comes to summers joining as full-time associates.
Interview with chairman and CEO Chase Simmons
Chambers Associate: How would you describe Polsinelli’s current market position?
We’re pretty dispersed across the US. We’re one of a handful of large US only firms, allowing us to be dispersed across the country. From a talent standpoint, we offer the ability for people throughout the US to be engaged in their community, whether it’s the business or the civic community. It’s really about being part of a national platform and network so people can work on the biggest deals with colleagues across the country – and now that we’re allowed to, they can travel around to other cities and meet colleagues again. From an associate standpoint, that’s our niche and focus, and we’re hoping to lean into that a little. In terms of the legal market, we continue to be a mid-market firm. We feel like, over the last ten to fifteen years, there has been a lot of growth, and interesting and dynamic things have been happening in the middle market – we've seen a lot of growth in the US, especially in private markets. We want to be a rewarding place for associates, and getting them client exposure quickly is a goal, rather than just having people working for shareholders or partners. It’s important to get that experience with direct client exposure.
CA: Are there highlights from the past year or in the firm’s immediate future you think our readers should be aware of?
We continue to be extremely busy in our transactional practices. We’ve been growing a lot at the associate level – if you look at our net growth in the last three years, almost all of it has been at associate level. We’re providing more and more opportunities for associates to start and advance their careers with us. This last fall we introduced a new ad campaign – the motto for our firm is What a law firm should be. It’s part of our website and our external branding, but also an internal challenge. A lot of companies in the world are entering a post-Covid atmosphere, and we felt like it was the time to challenge ourselves to be what we believe law firms should be. The last six months, to a year, have seen a real focus on us to make sure we are challenging and questioning everything we do.
CA: We've spoken a little about growth on the associate front, but are there any practice areas or sectors that the firm has earmarked for growth?
We always say we’re client driven. We’ve not set out to go trailblaze and say, “We want to start this area, or be deeper here.” Our growth is strategic and driven by what we’re hearing from our clients. A few areas that have seen growth over the last year have been healthcare, healthcare transactions, private equity, real estate, and finance.
CA: How has the firm weathered the pandemic and has it affected the firm’s long-term strategy?
We’ve weathered it very well, especially our culture. There are some things about us that were put to the test during Covid, but as with all of us in a personal and professional capacity, you have to stick with it and seek support from, and give support to others. Financially, we have done great. We focus more on our culture and our people; the only big strategic change has been to double down on our career growth and professional development growth. We want to help associates find a good work-life balance. It means something different now; we’re very much in a more 24/7 availability world where if you don’t sent boundaries, they waste away. We want to focus on establishing, and helping people navigate boundaries.
CA: What would you say is the greatest challenge facing the legal industry in the next decade?
I think it’s funny; if you had asked CEOs that five, six, seven years ago, the answer was always artificial intelligence and questions surrounding the demand for lawyers if legal technology was to take over. What we’ve seen is that all of those things have become tools for lawyers to be even more valuable to clients. The next challenge is going to be about mentoring, as well as that work-life balance and burn out. We’ve been through a period of time where people have been working incredibly hard – at some point the market will slow down a little, but there has been a change with feeling the need to always be available. It’s about finding a balance and resetting boundaries.
CA: On the topic of legal technology, how has the rise in legal technology affected the firm?
We have an innovations committee which we reinstituted at the beginning of Covid when we felt like we needed to do two things. In terms of long-term strategy and being in the market, it’s about having a good relationship with those developing legal technology; being educated on the market and being a savvy consumer of technology. That’s one prong of it.
The other prong is recognizing, as the world did at the end of March 2020, that we can sometimes leap a little and try something out. Because of the technology we already had, we were able to transition effectively into a remote setting – it wasn’t hard for us as we were already collaborating across the nation. Going forward it’s about implementing and piloting things that lawyers suggest, rather than being bureaucratic about it.
CA: Does the firm have any set targets with regards to diversity? Or are there any policies in place to keep diversity at the forefront?
We recently adopted a new strategic plan, replacing our old one. Both of those plans have really focused on diversity and inclusion at the top of the organization – on the board level, the practice group leader level, the equity partner level. The firm has decided not to put particular targets in the strategic plan, but the broader goal, which I find to be powerful, is to look at our associates and think about their makeup, and do everything we can so five, ten years from now, the makeup of the board and our leadership reflects that current associate makeup.
We don’t want to feel like we’re diverse because we have people coming from law school who are diverse. We want to make sure they’re promoted and stay with the firm throughout their career. We’ve had some real success with that, but it's not just about finding ways to make the numbers look better. It’s about realizing that we haven’t done the job until the firm’s leadership reflects the makeup of our associates and our communities.
CA: Any advice for those about to enter the legal industry?
I suspect that this wild time for associates won’t last forever – it hasn’t in the past. We’ll see the market calm down a little, but I suspect this is the beginning of a great upward time to be a lawyer at all levels. It’s an interesting time where we’re desired and needed by clients, especially as things become more tech enabled. It’s a really exciting time to get started in the legal industry.
- Head Office: Kansas City
- Number of domestic offices: 21
- Partners (US): 529
- Associates (US): 302
- Contacts Main recruitment contact: Dani Barnard, Chief Recruiting Officer
- Hiring partner: Jessica Zaiger, Chair of Recruiting & Hiring Strategic
- Diversity officer: Philip G. Hampton, II, Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 30
- Clerking policy: Case By Case
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 58 1Ls: 10 2Ls: 48 Summer salary 2022: $3,265-$3,845/week* *Salaries vary depending on location. Split summers offered? N
Main areas of work:
Labor and Employment
Polsinelli is an Am Law 100 firm with 950 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Recognized by legal research firm BTI Consulting as one of the top firms for excellent client service and client relationships, the firm’s attorneys provide value through practical legal counsel infused with business insight, and focus on health care, financial services, real estate, intellectual property, middle-market corporate, labor and employment and business litigation.
Summer associate profile:
Polsinelli’s summer associate program provides law students an opportunity to work alongside associates and shareholders for ten weeks. Roles and responsibilities of a summer associate include, but are not limited to, drafting a variety of legal documents such as motions, memos and organizational documents; interpreting laws, rulings, and regulations; examining legal and other data to determine strategies for clients; and analyzing the probable outcomes of cases, negotiations and other legal transactions.
Summer program components:
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022
- Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
- Healthcare (Band 5)
- Labor & Employment: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
District of Columbia
- Healthcare: Pharmaceutical/Medical Products Regulatory (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Prosecution (Band 2)
- Healthcare (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 1)
- Insurance (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
Missouri: Kansas City & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
Missouri: St Louis & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
- Healthcare (Band 5)
Texas: Dallas, Fort Worth & Surrounds
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Franchising (Band 4)
- Healthcare: The Elite (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)