Brenda Baum, Partner, HeplerBroom LLC, Edwardsville
By ALAN J. ORTBALS
One of the things that Brenda Baum likes about practicing law with HeplerBroom LLC in Edwardsville is the unique opportunity to work with large corporate clients in a small-town atmosphere.
Baum grew up in Keokuk, Iowa, and earned a bachelor’s degree in English thinking she might be a teacher. But, while at Grinnell College, she had the opportunity to do an internship with a local attorney, and that made up her mind to pursue a career in law.
She applied to several law schools and chose Washington University in St. Louis. After a stint with a St. Louis law firm and in-house at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, she was seeking an opportunity to do more litigation and found it at HeplerBroom, which had a growing practice in asbestos defense work.
Baum had never litigated an asbestos case when she came to the firm in 2001 but today it’s 100 percent of her practice. Madison County is the busiest asbestos docket in the country. Some 1,678 new asbestos cases were filed in 2013, eclipsing the previous record, and as many as 50 or more cases are set for trial every Monday. In addition, HeplerBroom attorneys also represent clients in asbestos cases in Chicago and St. Louis. Baum estimates that half of the firm’s attorneys are involved in asbestos defense.
Asbestos cancers can occur decades after exposure and that makes litigating them challenging for both the plaintiff and defendant, but that, along with the opportunity to travel back in time through first-hand accounts, is what Baum finds so stimulating.
“It’s really interesting work,” Baum said. “It’s challenging and fast-paced and we practice in jurisdictions that are difficult ones for defendants. One thing that I like about asbestos work is that it’s challenging to defend cases where the exposures happened decades ago; I find it interesting from a historical standpoint.
“Trying to investigate something that happened in 1962 is extremely difficult,” said Baum. And, frequently, we have to conduct long-distance investigations where we may be trying to examine allegations of exposure to our client’s product that occurred in a place like Wichita, Kan., in 1970. Many of the witnesses are not around anymore. It can be very challenging and very costly.”
Going on now 14 years with the firm, Baum said that she feels she’s really found her place at HeplerBroom.
“HeplerBroom is definitely my home,” Baum said. “Our firm not only has wonderful lawyers but also wonderful human beings; the one thing that I think really distinguishes our firm from other firms is that you have a sense of collaboration and a sense of teamwork, which adds up to great results for our clients.”