Nancy Polomis set out in life believing she could achieve anything – due, in part, to the support of her extraordinary World War II-era parents who were both college educated and her undergraduate education at an all women’s college.
She has carried that momentum forward at Hellmuth & Johnson PLLC, where she is a partner practicing in the areas of community associations and real estate law. Polomis and the colleagues in her practice group represent hundreds of community associations and many home builders. Each attorney has a distinctive niche within the practice, and together they are not only among the largest benches of community association lawyers in the Twin Cities – if not the largest – but their depth of knowledge is unsurpassed.
Polomis was the seventh lawyer and first woman hired by this full-service firm of 60 attorneys, and she has remained at H&J because of an enduring culture of collaboration, collegiality and entrepreneurialism. “This firm is a place that welcomes top attorneys and helps them find natural ways to connect and help each other grow, strategize on client work and develop business,” she commented. “For both female and male attorneys, whether they are law clerks fresh out of school or lawyers with 25-plus years of experience, the goal is the same – to be successful individuals while also making the firm successful – and we’re all prepared to help each other get there.”
Getting there begins with collaboration. “I like that I can walk down the hall and meet with a partner or associate who has experience in just about any issue my client might be facing. Clients get the benefit of more than just my experience and representation, they also get the benefit of our collective knowledge. I’m a transactional attorney, but there are others here who are skilled litigators. We all interact frequently and work well together, and I feel comfortable making referrals to my colleagues so my clients get the best representation possible.”
H&J’s collaborative workplace naturally fosters professional collegiality. But the bond goes even deeper. In this environment where connectedness is foundational to legal excellence, it is also a baseline for developing friendships and recognizing when a team member may need assistance or support. Seeing people as multifaceted human beings contributes to a culture of personal balance and fulfillment.
“Our firm tries to find balance between working really hard and having a life outside of work. It’s always a dance, but we do it pretty well. I think one of the reasons we have so many long-term employees who are so loyal is because the firm strives to avoid burnout. A burned-out attorney isn’t able to perform at her best. Strife at home can mean someone is not at the top of her game. We want to help everybody be their best all the time.”
Polomis has felt the effects personally. “When I was an associate, my child had some medical issues that required me to be out of the office. In an era when telecommuting was not the norm, the firm arranged for me to be with my child and work as much as I was comfortable doing. There have been instances when I called Chad Johnson, H&J’s managing partner, and said, ‘This is what’s going on in my family.’ His first response was always, ‘You need to take care of your family. What do we need to take care of here so you can do that?’”
The result is that 18 years later, Polomis can’t see herself practicing law anyplace else. “It engendered a lot of loyalty from me. I think that attitude goes a long way in developing the personality of the firm. It’s not just some cold, corporate entity, and this is a part of what attracts quality attorneys to our firm.”
H&J sponsors regular gatherings to promote collaboration and collegiality among its women attorneys.
“This is one time when we do differentiate between the men and women at our firm. It’s not mandatory, but everyone is encouraged to come, and it is always well-attended. We want to give the women in our firm an opportunity to get together in a relaxed environment and blend business with pleasure. From a business aspect, we can share ideas about marketing and dealing with clients. But on a personal level, we are able to get to know each other better and facilitate a support network. If you’re not a practicing attorney, you can’t always understand the stresses an attorney is under. It’s nice to talk to someone who knows the players, understands where you are in your practice, and can just listen or give you some practical advice. Sometimes it’s easier to approach another female about how to make family work with a law career.
I’m certainly not saying that men don’t have some of the same questions, but the answers might be different.” H&J also helps everyone in the firm succeed by fostering entrepreneurialism. “When attorneys come into the office with new marketing strategies or a new client to pitch, the firm is very supportive. We encourage everyone to be entrepreneurial and to think creatively. It’s a great opportunity for attorneys to pull from their hobbies or outside interests to market to a new group and build their practice.”
It was a woman attorney who first introduced Polomis to the idea of being a real estate lawyer. “I think seeing someone similar to you in a job makes it easier to imagine yourself there. I hope I can provide that same assurance for other women in the profession. But overall, I don’t think of my colleagues as male or female. They are all my colleagues. We just want to have the best lawyers here doing the best work we can for our clients.”