Jim Polsinelli’s legacy underscores nearly 50 years of exponential firm growth, leaving an indelible mark on the Kansas City community and legal industry
On October 1, 1972, with two other lawyers and an assistant in a 1,000 square foot second floor office above the Plaza Theatre, 28-year-old Jim Polsinelli bravely hung out his shingle, becoming the first law firm on Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza. He went to UMB Bank for a “large” line of credit of $10,000 and pledged his household goods – including pots and pans – in exchange for a safety net he never drew down.
Some 46 years, dozens of offices coast-to-coast and 800 attorneys later, James A. Polsinelli is retiring from the Am Law 100 firm to which he bestowed his legacy.
Dating back to the beginning of his career, Jim possessed a steadfast and now legendary commitment to his clients, many of which were small businesses in mid-markets spanning various industries – among them, manufacturing, retail food operation, distribution companies, industrial hardware operations, mortgage services, real estate investments and more. The depth and breadth of the small, growing firm’s legal counsel created early impressive client outcomes, and the firm began to rapidly grow.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to Jim’s entrepreneurial spirit and uncanny ability to anticipate change,” said Polsinelli Chairman and CEO Russ Welsh. “He has been a mentor to me, and so many others. Jim’s trademark integrity, core values, judgement and passion for clients are values our firm strives to model to this day.”
When Jim started his career, lawyers relied on typewriters and books to aid their legal research. But as clients’ needs evolved, Jim’s business model did so, too, setting the pace for the growth that would remain impressive and steady throughout his tenure with the firm that bears his name.
Jim’s dedicated client achievements were powered by a willingness to make his community stronger and ensure a better future for up-and-coming attorneys, whom he has passionately mentored and coached up to his retirement. For years, Jim has led the firm’s evolution with his entrepreneurial spirit, staying in front of trends in the legal industry and adjusting to the evolving ways of practice – all of which have been factors in the firm’s success over the years.
“It has been such a kick. Even in my wildest dreams back then, I didn’t anticipate the success of our firm today,” said Jim. “I’m tremendously grateful to our firm’s leaders – past and present – who have preserved the values we established when founding this business nearly five decades ago. I’m equally grateful to the extraordinary clients I have worked with over the years, many of whom became friends that I learned more from them than they did from me. Most importantly, I could not have gone on this journey without the tremendous support of my family.”
Jim’s persistent dedication to success leaves behind a rich legacy at Polsinelli. He has earned many distinctions for his legal work, including numerous years on The Best Lawyers in America® list and Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers list. The Kansas City Bar Association named him the prestigious “Baron of the Boardroom” and he is a past recipient of the “Man of the Year” Award by the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) Law Foundation. He was also awarded the University of Missouri-Kansas City Outstanding Career Achievement Award.
Earlier this year, Jim received the prestigious Missouri Lawyers Weekly ICON Award, which honors 25 distinguished men and women attorneys age 60 and older in recognition of their exemplary careers and longstanding commitment to the Missouri legal community.
Jim also has a lengthy track record of giving back to the Kansas City and legal communities. He has held board positions for many well-respected community organizations, such as the University of Missouri – Kansas City, St. Teresa’s Academy, Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (past Commissioner and Chairman), Rockhurst High School (past Chairman), Jackson County Land Trust Commission (past Vice Chair), UMKC Bloch School of Entrepreneurship, UMKC Law Foundation (past President) and the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association, among others.
“Jim Polsinelli is one of the finest corporate and M&A lawyers anywhere, and there is no doubt about that, but that is not his legacy,” said Frank Ross Jr., chair of the firm’s Business Department. “He retires from this firm having given it the values and culture that have been the true source of our success. He taught all of us about putting the client first with quality work and committed service, about putting the lawyer’s ego at the bottom of the list, about respect and kindness towards everyone, and about putting our firm’s welfare above the individual lawyer’s welfare. Jim may be retiring from the firm, but he will always be with us thanks to his selfless gifts to all of us. That is his legacy.”
Among Jim’s numerous community roles, he currently serves as Chair of both the UMKC Board of Trustees and the UMKC Law School and Entrepreneurship Task Force. He is a past Chairman of the Rockhurst High School Board of Directors, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority and the Visitation Church Renovation Strategic Plan team. He graduated with honors from UMKC Law School, was a Member and Contributing Editor of the UMKC Law Review, is a recipient of the Rockhurst High School Ignatian Award, and was named to the “Best of the Bar” for Mergers and Acquisitions by the Kansas City Business Journal, among many other honors.
Jim will walk the halls of the firm which has shared his name for the last 46 years for the final time on Jan. 31, 2019. He and his wife plan to shuttle to both coasts as they enjoy more time with their children and grandchildren.
“The basic stuff that I thought in 1972 is what I still think today,” reflected Jim. “When we started the firm, I was all focused on the people we hired and brought into the firm. That was my Job One. I didn’t worry too much about the clients or expenses, but I felt if we got the right people, the rest would take care of itself. And it sure has.”
“As we continue to grow our national footprint from the foundation Jim built, we’re continually reminded of the exceptional commitment and devotion that underscores our practice,” said
Chair-Elect Chase Simmons. “From the day he opened our doors, Jim’s mantra was ‘quality work in a timely manner for a fair fee.’ That’s an ethic that will continue forward in tribute to Jim’s name forever.”
Polsinelli is an Am Law 100 firm with more than 825 attorneys in 21 offices. Ranked #24 for Client Service Excellence1 and #10 for best client relationships2 among 650 U.S. law firms, Polsinelli is also named among the top 30 best-known firms in the nation3 for the second consecutive year. The firm’s attorneys provide value through practical legal counsel infused with business insight and a focus on health care, financial services, real estate, intellectual property, mid-market corporate, labor and employment, and business litigation. www.polsinelli.com | Polsinelli PC | In California, Polsinelli LLP
12018 BTI Client Service A-Team Report
22017 BTI Industry Power Rankings
32018 BTI Brand Elite