Hepler Celebrates 50 Years at the Firm
HeplerBroom staff gathered recently to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Larry Hepler joining the firm. [At the time Hepler was hired, the firm was known as the Burroughs Law Firm. The name changed multiple times over the years as partners joined or left, but since 1975 “Hepler” and “Broom” have always been part of it. (Gordon Broom joined the practice two months after Hepler.) In March 2007, the firm “rebranded” the name to HeplerBroom LLC.]
By the time he was in high school, Hepler knew he wanted to be an attorney. After earning his B.A. at Bucknell University and his J.D. at Washington and Lee, he landed a position with an east coast firm. A few months later he was called to active military duty and sent to Vietnam. Eventually, he was reassigned from his command as an ordnance officer to being the only defense counsel for about 14,000 personnel. Those cases ran the full gamut from simple drug possession charges to assault and battery, dereliction of duty, rape, and murder.
After being in Vietnam, he knew he didn’t want to be gone from his family as much as his job with the east coast firm would have required, so he took a position with a St. Louis area firm. Through his Vietnam experience he’d also discovered that trying cases was his passion. He soon realized, though, that getting into the courtroom was not something that would happen quickly, and he contemplated moving back to the coast. Gordon Burroughs heard about his plans and offered him a position as a trial lawyer. He accepted that position and has never looked back.
Throughout his career, Hepler has focused his practice on the defense of complex, multiparty civil cases and class actions. Although he’s tried many major cases, if forced to choose, he would have to pick Charles Kueper v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company et al. as a strong contender for the most significant. “That case changed my practice,” Hepler explained. “Also, the national and international exposure the firm gained from it was invaluable in our growth.”
The biggest change he’s seen in the legal arena in the last 50 years is the drop in the number of cases that go to trial. Earlier, nearly all cases were expected to be decided by a jury. If they did settle, it happened at the courthouse or during the trial. Another major change: if attorneys wanted to become partners in a firm, they were expected to be able to try any case the firm had.
Hepler cites several key factors that have contributed to his long, successful career. One is that trying cases is hard, stressful work, and he learned to work hard while growing up on a dairy farm. “Another,” he said, “is that I get to do this incredibly challenging and intellectually stimulating work with great people.” The final factor is the business model he and Broom decided on when they became the partners in charge. That model centers on the belief that all of us together are better than any of us individually. “I’m very proud of our team approach to things,” he concluded. “It’s provided a great place to work and a great product for our clients.”