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Liz Burnett handled subrogation cases involving fires and explosion during her work as an insurance adjuster, experience that she said motivated her to go to law school. (File photo: Bill Klotz)

Breaking the Ice: Fire, explosion investigations benefit work

Name: Liz Burnett

Title: Principal, Robins Kaplan

Education: B.A., English Literature and Spanish, Creighton University; J.D., University of St. Thomas School of Law

For Liz Burnett, principal at Robins Kaplan, going to the scenes of fires and explosions is an “invigorating and energizing” part of her national product liability defense practice.

Such field work also makes a difference in court in the often high-stakes cases on which she works.

“It’s much easier then to put yourself in the place of the judge or the jury and explain to them what happened, explain how the dynamics of an explosion or a fire might have worked and then how the parties are not culpable for causing that,” Burnett said.

Burnett handled subrogation cases involving fires and explosions during her work as an insurance adjuster, experience that she said motivated her to go to law school.

Burnett’s expertise in defending entities involved in fires and explosions has led to her to pairing up with others in the firm to work on plaintiff’s cases representing burn survivors and their relatives.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. Say something funny, make a joke. Humor is such a great way to bring people together and connect.

Q. What prompted you to study law and pursue it professionally?

A. When I was working as an adjuster I was representing the insurance companies that I worked for at mediations. I was negotiating on their behalf, sometimes working with lawyers and sometimes not. I thought, I can do this as the lawyer. So that ultimately prompted me to go to law school.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. I have two young children so I read a lot of kids book like, “Mighty Mighty Construction Site.” But I also recently read a really good book by Louise Erdrich, “The Master Butchers Singing Club.”

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. When people are inauthentic. In terms of something not as serious, having a dirty kitchen is a huge pet peeve of mine.

Q. What are your favorite aspects of being an attorney?

A. The ability to represent someone, whether that’s an individual, a corporate client or a pro bono client, and helping them solve problems.

Q. Least favorite?

A. Being a lawyer is a stressful job. Any time you care very deeply about the work that you’re doing, it’s hard not to bring some of it home with you. At the same time, you just have to find positive outlets for that stress. Having some of that makes you a better attorney.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. I’ve got a young family, so I love spending time with my children and my husband. We love being out and about in Minneapolis. We spend a lot of time visiting state parks. I find baking and cooking to be cathartic and gratifying, to come home and make something tangible with my hands.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. I’m from Eau Claire, which is not that far from Chippewa Falls, so I would probably take them to the Leinenkugel brewery for a tour and a nice refreshing beverage in the taproom.

Q. Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most?

A. My mentor, [Robins Kaplan partner] Jason Pfeiffer. He’s someone that I’ve worked with closely since I was a summer associate at Robins. He has invested in me and mentored me, given me a lot of opportunities over my career and taught me much of what I know as an attorney.

Q. What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney?

A. A lot of people think being an attorney is boring. I’ve not found that to be the case. Every day is different. There’s a new challenge, a new problem to solve, a new puzzle to riddle out.

Q. What, if any, is your favorite depiction of the legal professional in popular culture?

A. I really enjoyed “Boston Legal.” It was so pithy and funny and had some elements of truth to it.

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