Fuel begins its life in an oil field, flows through a pipeline to a refinery and arrives at the pump where drivers wait to put it in their tanks. Somewhere along the way, a legal issue is bound to arise. That’s where Abby L. Risner comes in.
Risner leads both the energy industry group and the class-action litigation group at Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale in St. Louis. Those sometimes-overlapping practice areas satisfy her love of complex commercial litigation.
“I love cases that have a lot of moving parts, very sophisticated legal issues, largely driven by strategy,” she said.
A native of southern California, Risner moved to St. Louis when her husband got a job there, so for law school she chose Saint Louis University School of Law. After earning her law degree in 2005, she joined Greensfelder as an associate.
It’s the only place she’s ever practiced. In addition to leading two of Greenfelder’s practice areas, she was until recently the chair of the firm’s recruiting committee, where she’s been able to encourage budding lawyers to try out new areas of the law as they discover what makes them passionate.
“I truly love where I work, which is probably why they have me do their recruiting,” she said. “There was really no reason to leave.”
Greensfelder has combined its lawyers’ expertise with its central location and relatively modest hourly rates to out-compete larger U.S. firms. Risner said much of her work concentrates on the “downstream” sectors of the oil industry — the part where gasoline goes from the refinery to the pump.
That’s the part that most consumers and businesses encounter, which means it’s also where legal issues, ranging from alleged violations of consumer-protection laws to gas-station franchise disputes, tend to emerge.
“We have an enormous amount of that downstream-energy knowledge and experience,” Risner said of her team. “Because we have this knowledge and this experience in this area, we have national clients come to us.”
Legal issues in the energy field often result in class-action litigation, which has prompted Risner’s practice to expand to class-action defense in unrelated areas, such as workers’ compensation and student-loan servicing.
“You cannot approach defense of a class-action the same way you would any other typical commercial litigation,” she said. “Strategically it’s entirely different, and you have to approach the case differently.”
Outside of work, Risner serves on the Young Friends Council of the Missouri Botanical Garden, which she said is one of her favorite attractions in St. Louis.
Risner is proud that Greensfelder has a significant number of women in leadership positions, something that remains uncommon in many law firms. She said she recently had a senior male attorney tell her she would fail in one of her roles.
“As women in leadership positions, we continue to encounter that type of attitude,” she said. “I am fortunate to have several women at my firm as colleagues [and men] that believe we should lift each other up as women, and are supportive.”