Elizabeth Burnett: Rewriting the Odds — DEI in Action

Elizabeth Burnett

When she was attending law school at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, Elizabeth Burnett says she never envisioned that one day, she would need her own hard hat, safety glasses and steel-toed boots to do her job. A partner at Robins Kaplan LLP, Burnett’s litigation practice is focused on high-stakes products liability, commercial and disaster matters, many of which stem from fires and explosions involving combustible dust or natural gas. Burnett represents both plaintiffs and defendants, including product manufacturers, plant owners and subrogated property insurers. She also devotes a portion of her practice to obtaining recoveries for persons injured or killed in fires and explosions.

After working for Robins Kaplan as a summer associate, Burnett joined the firm as a licensed attorney. She describes it as a place where her professional advancement has always been nurtured. “The firm has been extremely supportive of me over the years. I have had tremendous mentors — attorneys who invested deeply in me. I have benefited from investments made in me from outside the firm as well. One of my most treasured relationships has been with in-house counsel at one of our clients. She has given me tremendous opportunities and has helped me navigate certain inflection points in my life and career, like starting a family while working full-time, and my transition from associate to partner.”

Burnett advanced to firm partner in 2018, and recently, she was named a co-chair of the firm’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. “There is a lot of energy around DEI in the legal field, and I’m excited about the different initiatives we’re working on. For example, our fall program just kicked off with the business development team providing specific, tailored training and coaching for attorneys from historically under-represented groups. The goal is for associates to learn new skills and receive additional development to help position them for success in their overall advancement as attorneys. We like to say we’re in the talent business, and investing in our attorneys is always a wise investment.”

Burnett is also serving her second board term with Minnesota Women Lawyers.

In her role as a partner, particularly a woman partner, Burnett enjoys mentoring others and helping them achieve their professional and personal aspirations. She takes a special interest in helping both women and men navigate their transition as they start families, since many are often moving into the senior associate or partnership ranks at the same time. “It can be a really busy and stressful time, and I try to be a resource and offer encouragement as they find their way as new parents and working professionals.”

“A huge part of being successful and practicing at this level is having a spouse who is supportive of this work,” she adds. “My husband does a tremendous job with that.”

Burnett says she hopes the remote methods adopted during COVID will lead to lasting changes in the way attorneys view their work. “I think it’s become normative to give people more flexibility. Firm culture is always evolving. When I think about the last couple of years and where the firm is now, it’s clear that we are always trying to innovate and be adaptive to take on the tough problems our clients have. Through the logistical challenges of the pandemic, we persevered, and in many ways, it brought people closer together.”

According to Burnett, she is inspired, hopeful and energized by the diverse talent Robins Kaplan is hiring out of law school and following clerkships. “I am excited to bring in such talented associates and call them colleagues, and hopefully, partners. It is my privilege to support those who are coming up through the ranks.”

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