Elizabeth Heller, Partner, Goldenberg Heller Antognoli & Rowland, P.C., Edwardsville
By ALAN J. ORTBALS
Elizabeth Heller had a good job with May Department Stores when, in 1989, she decided to chuck it all, cash in the 401k and jump headlong into law school.
Heller said it was scary as she was going to the Washington University School of Law full time, no money was coming in and lots was going out. To stay sane, she trained hard in cycling and competing in triathlons with a goal of making the U.S. Olympic team.
She didn’t make the Olympic team but she did graduate from law school and through an attorney friend in Alton, landed a job with the new law firm of Bono, Goldenberg, Hopkins and Bilbrey. That was 23 years ago and she’s been there ever since, although the firm has changed over the years and is now Goldenberg Heller Antognoli & Rowland, P.C.
It was and still is a multi-faceted firm and Heller spent her first 15 years focused on business litigation. But, for the last eight years, she’s been heading up the firm’s asbestos litigation department.
“Our firm is unique — probably unlike any other in Madison County — in that we represent both plaintiffs and defendants, in business and commercial litigation, real estate matters, estate planning and more,” Heller said. “We’re not a single focus firm like a lot of asbestos firms. We can do anything from write a will for a client to handling complex business transactions. My practice is exclusively asbestos litigation right now and we’ve got about 25 people who focus entirely on asbestos litigation.”
While asbestos was outlawed in the early 1970s, people are still suffering its effects because it can be decades between the time when a person was exposed and when the cancer appears. This makes it hard to litigate, says Heller, because their clients are trying to remember details from long ago. It helps to do a lot of asbestos litigation in that many of their clients have similar backgrounds, and the firm develops a library of asbestos-related facts from client experiences at various industries.
Representing plaintiffs in asbestos litigation can be heartbreaking work, said Heller. Often their clients don’t have long to live and sometimes the victim is a spouse or a child of a worker who suffered second-hand exposure.
“The relationships that we develop with our clients make it bearable,” Heller said. “The daughter of one of our clients told us that we had become like part of their family and that her father had shared things with us that she had never heard before. We can’t save their lives but we can help to ease the transition and help put the kids through college. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.”