From a young age, Jackie Olinger Rochelle knew she wanted to be a lawyer.
She joked that was partly because she grew up watching The Cosby Show, but also because she knew that the law was a way to help others.
“I always knew I wanted to represent people and help people get through things, and I figured that was the best way to do it,” she said.
Plus, she deadpanned: “I’m not good at math.”
Initially, Rochelle intended to become a criminal defense attorney. Her mother worked in a correctional setting as a counselor in a work-release center, and Rochelle said she regularly met the inmates with whom her mother worked.
“I would see them in town and in restaurants, and I [would think], ‘These people are so nice.’ Maybe if they had a better defense attorney, they would not have been in prison,” she said.
As an undergraduate student, the Robinson, Illinois native worked for a small law firm that handled criminal defense work, where she saw a downside to the field: having to seek payments from clients.
Eventually, her interest shifted to asbestos litigation. While attending Saint Louis University School of Law, she interviewed with Simmons Cooper — now Simmons Hanly Conroy — during on-campus interviews. She clerked for the firm during the summer before her third year of law school, and she stayed with the firm for four years after she graduated in 2005.
At Simmons Cooper, she focused her practice on building cases against asbestos defendants and assisting in trials. She said the firm’s work fit well with what she was looking for, and she’s continued to represent those injured by asbestos.
In 2009, she joined Maune Raichle Hartley French & Mudd, where her practice now ranges from client intake to trial. Working with her clients is what keeps her going, she said.
“At those times when you’re like, ‘Why am I a lawyer?’ that’s what draws me back — I’m representing people who rely on me so much during a critical time in their lives,” she said. “You really just want to do good for them.”
Rochelle said of the cases on which she’s worked, she’s most proud of a talcum powder suit against Johnson & Johnson that went to trial in New Jersey in 2019. She represented a woman who was in her 40s and a U.S. Air Force veteran.
“I’m most proud of that because it was a case that was rejected by another law firm,” she said.
Rochelle said asbestos-exposure cases are tough to prove, which made the woman’s win even more significant.
“When you’re trying to figure those things out, it’s almost like a dead end,” she said. “And then we won. It was very gratifying.”
Outside of work, Rochelle serves as secretary of the board of the Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition. The mission of the organization — to help children find permanent homes — is close to her heart because she has two adopted brothers, she said.
She also is active in the legal community and recently finished a term on the board of governors of the American Association for Justice.
The organization has been a great resource, from legal education programming to networking, said Rochelle, who has served on a number of committees for the group.
“It takes up a lot of time, but I also feel it’s good work,” she said. “It’s part lobbying. Getting people access to the courts is important, so we try to make sure we’re in front of bills that would restrict people’s rights to a trial by jury.”