Fresh out of law school in 2002, Christopher Pickett moved from St. Louis to Nevada, Missouri, population 8,200, determined to be a public defender and gain experience as a young litigator.
He remembers the day he was assigned to represent a white supremacist, with a swastika tattooed on his neck and the words “white power” on his forearms. Pickett found ways to gain his client’s trust and work with him.
“I learned early on that if you’re honest, respectful and direct, and stand up for yourself, you can move the needle forward,” Pickett said. “It’s not going to move it all the way, but incremental movement is important.”
Pickett was 27 at the time. After two years in Nevada, he transferred to St. Louis’ public defender office, where he was quickly schooled in the criminal justice system and law enforcement on the city’s tough streets. The experience taught him a sad, hard truth: “It’s difficult, if not impossible, in the city of St. Louis to succeed when you are poor and a minority,” Pickett said.
Now well into a successful career as a trial lawyer, Pickett is a partner with Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, PC, where he represents companies in business litigation disputes and employment disputes, unfair competition and securities litigation. He also leads the firm’s Securities and Financial Services industry group.
As the firm’s chief diversity officer, Pickett’s role includes helping diverse attorneys navigate the corporate legal culture and increase their numbers at the firm.
Pickett is one of three business leaders selected to receive the 2017 Business Performer Award at the St. Louis American Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Business Networking and Awards Luncheon.
He joined Greensfelder in 2012 and quickly “stepped up as a leader at the firm,” said Danielle Carr, the firm’s director of diversity and inclusion at the time. When Carr left the firm in 2016 to become director of diversity and inclusion at Polsinelli, she recommended Pickett to succeed her.
Greensfelder President and CEO Tim Thornton said Pickett’s direct and honest style has made him an effective trial lawyer and ensures diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of the firm’s operations.
“Chris is wicked smart,” Thornton said, “and his energy and natural talents to bring people together helps us all never lose focus that we are a stronger organization and community the more voices that are contributing to an issue.”
Although he’s praised as a gifted litigator, Pickett wasn’t always sure he wanted to be a lawyer. He came from a long line of physicians; his father was an emergency room doctor who rotated throughout ERs in the metro area. His maternal grandfather and great-grandfather were also doctors, as is Pickett’s younger brother.
It wasn’t until his third year at Saint Louis University’s School of Law that it finally clicked. “I was on a moot court team, and it was the most exciting thing of my life. I just needed to know what to do next,” Pickett said.
A native of St. Louis, Pickett graduated from the now-closed John F. Kennedy High School in Manchester and received bachelor’s degrees in History and Russian from Saint Louis University (SLU). He received his J.D. from SLU’s School of Law.
Pickett’s push for diversity and inclusion in the office extends to his volunteer work, where he looks at holistic approaches to break down barriers that may prevent minorities from succeeding.
As volunteer legal counsel with Habitat for Neighborhood Business, he helps businesses in black neighborhoods stay in business, providing mentors, financing options and help negotiating rent reductions with landlords. “Successful businesses in neighborhoods employ people, and you can lift an entire neighborhood up,” Pickett said.
He has a similar approach with high school students in East St. Louis he mentors, helping them navigate the road to higher education. “How can we help a child in high school get to college?” Pickett said. “Because that’s the step where so many get lost.”
And when he thinks of his three children, Lily, Lucy and Lincoln, and their future in St. Louis, the goal remains the same. “What can we do to make St. Louis a destination city and keep diverse and progressive and forward-thinking people here?” Pickett said.
“To the extent I can help LGBT and diverse attorneys or law students of color and students progress in their careers, and reverse the process of people leaving the city and helping them remain, that is my goal.”