By Christine Imbs
Inspirational speaker Nancy Coey said, “When work, commitment, and pleasure all become one and you reach that deep well where passion lives, nothing is impossible.”
Don Lents would probably agree. As chairman of the law firm of Bryan Cave, he is only the third partner to take on that role which was created more than 30 years ago. Yet, when Lents started working for Bryan Cave in 1974, it wasn’t with the idea of eventually leading the firm. The only thing on his mind was the practice of law. And the law was his passion.
“I was attracted to the intellectual stimulation of the law and the opportunity to do something professionally to make an impact not only on my clients, but the community as well,” he says. “And as someone who’s been in the same profession his entire professional life, I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else. I enjoy being a lawyer.”
Lents’ interest in the law goes back as far as high school, where he got involved in debates and public speaking. Then as an undergraduate in college, he majored in government. He says becoming a lawyer only seemed a natural course to take.
“There are no lawyers in
my family. I’m the first, and at this point the only one,” he says. “But when you consider my interests—well, the law and government tend to
go hand-in-hand in a lot
Lents joined Bryan Cave right out of Harvard Law School, with the goal of becoming a trial lawyer. He practiced trial, as well as corporate work, the first couple of years, because he thought it would provide him with exposure from both sides of the practice. But over time he realized that, as much as he enjoyed trial work, it was the process of actually putting a deal together that he enjoyed most.
“I found that even though I enjoyed
arguing a case for our motion, I really enjoyed negotiating,” he says. “So after a few years, I ended up settling into the
corporate side of the practice. And I’ve spent almost my entire career as a business lawyer.”
Lents says choosing to work for Bryan Cave turned out to be a happy circumstance. Both he and his wife, Peggy, are from Missouri—Lents from Independence and Peggy from St. Louis. So finding a firm
located not only in the Midwest, but also in St. Louis was a very attractive proposition for the both of them. Also, Lents says he believed Bryan Cave had a strong sense of where the profession was headed.
“When I joined Bryan Cave, it was an era when law firms were only in one city with a much more traditional structure,” he explains. “Bryan Cave appeared to be a very forward-looking firm, committed to doing what was necessary to service the clients’ needs as the economy grew and changed. And that’s proven to be the case.”
Today, Bryan Cave is a leading business and litigation firm with more than 900
attorneys and professionals in 21 offices worldwide. Based on 2006 revenues, it is
the 35th largest law firm in the world and
the 31st largest private company in the
St. Louis area. Lents says he considers his contribution in helping the firm achieve this pinnacle to be one of his biggest career accomplishments.
“I’ve had the good fortune of playing a variety of roles with Bryan Cave in helping them grow and prosper and be in the
position to help our clients’, he says. “And, of course, I’ve enjoyed working with our clients on projects that have helped them advance their business goals. It’s quite
satisfying to be a part of that.”
FAMILY: Wife, Peggy; two daughters, Stacie and Kelsey
BORN: Independence, Mo.
EDUCATION: Law and undergraduate degrees from Harvard University
KEY TO SUCCESS: “Listen carefully and take the time to understand the client’s needs.”
PHILOSOPHY: “Do your best to contribute to the community, to do the best job professionally and to be the kind of person others want to work with.”
favorite book: “Good to Great” by
FAVORITE MUSIC: Classical
HOBBIES: “I play tennis and also
golf—occasionally and poorly.”
ON ST. LOUIS: “Living in a city that’s friendly, navigable, comfortable and has so many cultural opportunities is
a real luxury.”