But in the early 1980s, when there was no such thing as flextime, and with two young children, Heller’s husband made a suggestion: open your own firm.
“It was a novel concept,” she said.
Not just the idea of a female attorney setting up shop on her own to work part time, but starting a practice that focused solely on trademark and copyright work, which had been unheard of in St. Louis at that time.
Heller did it though, after leaving her in-house position at Ralston Purina, she sent out about 300 announcements that she was going solo. The response was positive and Heller started getting business right away.
“One of the patent attorneys called me to congratulate me and said ‘it’s about time somebody in St. Louis started a trademark and copyright firm,’” Heller said.
Heller also attributed her initial success to her involvement in the legal community. She was one of the founding members of the Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater St. Louis, as well as a past president of the group. Heller is also a staple at the Lawyers Association of St. Louis’ annual Gridiron show, having performed there for 16 years in a row.
Not long after establishing her firm, Heller was netting what she had made working at Ralston Purina, and in 1988 she took on a partner, but ultimately went back to practicing on her own.
Several times, she said, she was approached to go back in-house, but ultimately the flexibility of a solo practice was a better fit. Heller also considered adding attorneys to her firm, but the timing was never right, she said.
Although she did not add attorneys to her own firm, Heller has seen the area of law grow. And some of that can be attributed to Heller herself.
Although she works with only one part-time associate in her firm, Heller takes every opportunity to mentor young attorneys, said Heather A. Bub, immediate past president of the Women Lawyers’ Association and partner at SmithAmundsen.
Bub pointed to Heller’s habit of taking those just entering the legal field out to lunch, getting to know them, and offering advice.
“Leadership goes beyond just the big firm setting,” Bub said.
Heller tries to encourage young attorneys to practice trademark and copyright law in small or midsize firms because she said the larger firms cannot serve small or mid-sized businesses.
“That is one of the other reasons I didn’t want to go to a big firm because that leaves your small business, your medium sized businesses without that type of legal resource,” she said.