In a number of ways, Annette Heller has been a trailblazer within the legal profession.
When studying to become a lawyer, she was one of only 10 women in her starting class at Saint Louis University School of Law. She also pioneered a trademark and copyright practice in St. Louis at a time when lawyers generally did not focus solely on those areas.
The St. Louis native said she was encouraged to become a lawyer by three men in her life. The first two were an undergraduate professor who taught business law and a lawyer she worked with at her first job out of college, at the Ralston Purina Company.
“The last person that encouraged me — I married,” she said. That encouragement was especially noteworthy because it came in the early 1970s, she said.
“Most guys would never have thought about a woman going to law school because it was very few of us at the time,” she said.
With his support, she attended night school at SLU Law, graduating in 1976. She said she remembers that year especially well because she was four months pregnant with her first son when she took the bar exam.
Out of law school, Heller worked as a trademark and copyright attorney in-house for Ralston Purina until 1983, when she decided to strike out and establish her own firm. She said she needed more flexibility to raise her children than the corporate world offered.
“It was a big leap for me because I didn’t really know if it would work, but it did, and I’m very pleased that I made that decision with the encouragement of my husband and his support,” she said.
When she started her firm, Heller said other attorneys in St. Louis weren’t exclusively doing trademark and copyright law.
“It’s an area that most general lawyers don’t have any experience in,” she said. “It’s overlooked until a problem arises and [a company is] told they have to change their name. To some businesses, that could be a death sentence.”
Heller said she enjoys talking with her clients about their work and how they can best promote it. She mostly works with small and medium-size businesses. Her clients through the years have included Scottrade and the illustrator Mary Engelbreit.
Heller is among the country’s top trademark attorneys in terms of the number of trademark applications she has filed. During her career, she has filed more than 4,800 trademark applications. Of that number, she estimates she has successfully registered at least 75 percent.
Heller is a founding member and former president of the Women Lawyers Association of Greater St. Louis and a former member of The Missouri Bar’s Board of Governors. She also serves as an at-large member of the board of The Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, and she is a longtime member of The Lawyers Association of St. Louis and a regular in the group’s annual Gridiron Show.