June 2015 MAJ Pacesetter
Rochester attorney Heather Atnip worked for a large insurance company through law school. “While I was there, I saw what I perceived to be injustice delivered to severely injured individuals by our legal system. It was very frustrating and my heart often went out to the injured individual. I decided to leave the defense side and went over to the plaintiff side where I formed deep and long lasting relationships with my clients. Tears were shared, triumphs were celebrated, and benefits were reinstated. I learned the value of fighting hand-in-hand with the client, while litigating my cases in an upfront and ethical manner. I also came to crave that sense of validation delivered by a jury when they are able to see and empathize with the plight of my clients,” stated Atnip.
Atnip joined MAJ in 2007 because of the resources and support available to young lawyers. “The seminars were outstanding and very informative and I never felt like an outcast due to my short number of years out of law school. I also appreciated the information regarding candidates and the grassroots efforts.” She added, “MAJ is an essential tool for any trial attorney. The members are a very collaborative group of the most esteemed members of the State Bar. Their insight and experience is beyond value. Whenever I have a question, I know that I can literally reach out to hundreds of lawyers who will be willing to respond with their experiences, motions, briefs, discovery, etc.”
An executive board member, co-chair of MAJ’s Law School Liaison Committee, and a frequent speaker at MAJ seminars, Atnip also contributes monthly to JUSTICE PAC because she believes, “Sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is.”
Atnip’s practice focuses almost exclusively on catastrophic first-party no-fault cases. “Running a multi-million dollar law firm at 36 years old is quite the task; however, I believe that my relative youth brings with it a certain passion for excellence. Most of my referrals are from other law firms who feel that the complexity of the case exceeds their time commitment or where the client has a very difficult personality due to a traumatic brain injury or personality disorder. It’s not uncommon to handle the first-party case while the referring attorney handles the pain and suffering portion. In addition, I really focus on making sure that my firm knows each case inside and out; not only who are clients are, but the names of their spouses and children and that they become intimately familiar with the personal and ongoing struggles faced by each. I find that this level of personal investment turns each employee and attorney into a fierce advocate. Of course, this level of commitment requires that we keep our case load manageable and we are selective. I never want my firm to become a ‘mill’ where I don’t know the names of my clients. Most importantly, I want my clients to get better by fighting for the treatment that they are entitled to.”
Recently, Atnip was referred a very serious child-pedestrian accident that was turned away by three other law firms. “The child was 12 years old at the time of the accident and I first met with him 6 months before his 19th birthday. He was the 4th child to run across I-75 where he was struck by a taxicab. Initially, I was referred the case for a differential in attendant care; however, when I went to the house, I quickly realized that the case was much more about home modifications. I nearly cried when I saw the hospital bed in the kitchen, unable to fully recline because it was so small. There was a lift on the front porch that was unusable to assist in transferring the client because of the small living space. Houses on all sides were burnt down and abandoned. I quickly filed a third-party case and the policy was tendered before the complaint was answered based on my allegations as to pure comparative in relation to the excess economic portion of his damages. The first-party claim just resolved for $1.2 million. The client is buying a brand new home and the family is guaranteed financial security for attendant care for a minimum of 4 years with 28 hours per week in respite care provided by an agency. I was also able to secure the home for the client without a reversionary interest and the insurance company paid attorney fees as well. As a thank you, my client painted me the most beautiful painting in his art therapy class which I am going to proudly frame and place in my conference room. I really believe that I changed someone’s life with that case.”
Outside of the practice of law, Atnip enjoys tennis, boating, hiking and kayaking.