Successful career a ‘team effort’ for Hildebrand, her daughter

Friday, February 28, 2014, Vol. 38, No. 9
By Jeannie Naujeck

Being a single parent throughout college and Vanderbilt law school helped motivate Wendee Hilderbrand, now a litigator with Bass Berry & Sims.

-- Michelle Morrow | Nashville Ledger

When Wendee Hilderbrand reflects on being a single parent throughout college, law school and a high-powered career at a top law firm, she doesn’t wonder how she managed.

She can’t imagine any other way.

“Nobody has been a bigger supporter of my career – it’s been a team effort all along,” Hilderbrand says of her daughter.

“I actually wonder how people do it without kids. She was my motivation and my inspiration.”

For Hilderbrand, Savannah, now a college freshman, has been her sidekick, best friend and main cheerleader through a career that culminated in making partner last year at Bass, Berry & Sims.

As a corporate litigator, Hilderbrand focuses on technology litigation and data security and cyber liability issues for a number of different industries. It’s a specialty that satisfies her intellectual curiosity by allowing her to delve into different businesses.

“My personality has always fit litigation. I ended up where I’m supposed to be,” Hilderbrand explains.

“Every case is different, every industry is different, every client’s different, every fact pattern’s different. It’s the process of immersing myself in the subject matter and immersing myself with the client’s business, and just really mastering it, that I love. It’s like constantly being in school.”

It’s a career Hilderbrand seems destined for. The Denver native worked her way through college with an infant daughter and then spent time as a paralegal to make sure law was the right career fit.

“It’s in my personality, and I had people tell me from the time I started to talk that I would make a good lawyer,” Hilderbrand says.

“It never was something that appealed to me much until I became a mom, and then it was the obvious choice.”

Wendee Hilderbrand

Employer: Bass, Berry & Sims

Academic background: Vanderbilt University Law School

Quote: “With litigation, each case allows me to try on a different industry, a different business. It’s the process of immersing myself in the subject matter and the client’s business, and mastering it, that I love. It’s like constantly being in school.”

With a choice of top law schools, she picked Vanderbilt with an eye to settling in Nashville long term, and joined Bass Berry & Sims after getting a few years experience at a smaller firm in Brentwood. The benefits of a large firm, she says, include resources to develop associates through mentoring and opportunities to participate in every phase of a case.

“I don’t know how you do this career without some very strong mentors,” she adds. “So much of the process is learning from those who are more experienced than you.”

In her nine years at Bass, Hilderbrand has also worked in securities and shareholder litigation. She served on a groundbreaking healthcare software case that required spending 40 weeks on the road over the past two years and resulted in a $106 million settlement for Bass’ client against an electronic medical records and billing software provider. She’s currently co-lead attorney in a data security case involving client Genesco, the plaintiff, against defendant Visa that is being closely watched around the country.

Hilderbrand’s pro bono work has led to significant achievements as well. Her efforts on behalf of death row inmate E.J. Harbison led Gov. Phil Bredesen to commute his sentence to life in prison, and earned her the Tennessee Bar Association’s Harris A. Gilbert Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award in 2011.

With Savannah away at college, Hilderbrand admits to a touch of empty-nest syndrome. She’s traded in her family-friendly SUV for a fun car – a soft-top Jeep Wrangler – and purchased a cabin for weekend getaways with her dogs.

But she also now has more time to mentor new lawyers and serve as president of the board of directors for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), the non-profit agency that assigns advocates to speak for abused and neglected children in the court system and assists them in finding safe homes. She’s helped grow the organization’s budget by 50 percent but now needs to triple to serve the 2,000 children each year who need an advocate.

“Children are absolutely God’s gift. To think that children are born into this world and not treated that way absolutely pains me,” Hilderbrand says.

“CASA provides them an adult voice whose one sole mission is to get them to a safe permanent home where they can walk in the door and get the relief that we all feel when we are home. How can you do anything in life without that?”

And while the stress of working to achieve partner has diminished, there’s new pressure to bring in business.

“It’s a different kind of stress. I no longer have people just dying for me to work on their cases because now I’m their peer and I need to go out and find my own cases,” Hilderbrand explains.

“You get the security but at the same time now it’s all on me to create my own business, create my own work.”

But with a specialty in data security and cyber liability, that likely won’t be difficult.

“I just look forward to excitement in that field. It’s so new and it’s going to be around for a long time,” she says.