Hildebrand, McLeod & Nelson,
better known as the "Hildebrand Firm" had
its start in 1926 when Cliff Hildebrand (1899-1977)
decided to reject the safety and financial rewards of
corporate law and become a standard bearer and advocate
for the working man. It all came about when Cliff was
fishing the Sacramento River outside of Dunsmuir, California
and befriended a brakeman and fellow fisherman who worked
for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Upon finding out
that Cliff was a lawyer he proceeded to inform him that
a number of his co-workers had suffered serious injury
while at work for the railroad and that they were unable
to find an attorney to represent them as it appeared
they were all fearful of the railroad's power and influence.
This intrigued Cliff, and he soon filed a half-dozen
lawsuits against the railroad under the Federal Employers'
Liability Act, a law enacted in 1908 as "a response
to the special needs of railroad workers who are daily
exposed to the risks inherent in railroad work and are
helpless to provide adequately for their own safety."
Sinkler vs. Missouri Pacific Railroad Co. (1957) 356
U.S. 326; 2 L.Ed.2d 799 at 802.
Unlike workers in other
U.S. industries, railroad workers did not have worker's
compensation protection. Their only remedy was (and
is) to bring suit under F.E.L.A.
Shortly after filing those cases, the
Chief Claim Agent for the Southern Pacific Railroad
contacted Cliff and indicated, in so many words, that
the Southern Pacific did not settle cases with lawyers,
that they go to trial and win every time, and further
more that if he, Clifton Hildebrand, did not drop the
cases that were filed, he would have him disbarred in
six months time. Cliff responded by telling him that
up until that time, he had not made up his mind as to
what kind of law he wanted to practice, but he said,
"Now I know. I'm going to specialize in suing the
railroads, and particularly the Southern Pacific for
injured railroad men who are hurt on the job."
From that threat, the journey began. During the
ensuing years, Hildebrand, through settlements and trials
won millions of dollars for railroaders hurt on the
job as well as for the other injury victims involved
in car crashes and construction accidents. He was the
pioneer in F.E.L.A. litigation west of the Rocky Mountains
and his appellate decisions helped shape the liberal
application of F.E.L.A. from coast to coast.
In 1930, Cliff was named as one of the
original designated counsel for the Brotherhood of Railroad
In 1935, Hildebrand hired a young lawyer,
Charles McLeod (1910-1991), to assist him with his burgeoning
caseload. This association and later partnership was
to last through both their lifetimes.
The team of Hildebrand and McLeod became
so successful at winning just compensation for their
clients that they became, in Cliff's words: "Public
Enemy Number One" as far as west coast railroads
The Hildebrand Firm repeatedly fought for the idea, against the judicial and political influence of the railroads, that injured persons are entitled to seek the best counsel. In the matter of the Brotherhood of Railroad
Trainmen v. the State of Virginia, the court issued an opinion
holding that the union had every right to refer its
injured members to a lawyer or firm "with a reputation
for honesty and skill in representing plaintiffs in
railroad personal injury litigation." The court
stated that "injured workers or their families
often fall prey on the one hand to persuasive claims
adjusters eager to gain a quick and cheap settlement
for their railroad employers, or on the other to lawyers
either not competent to try these lawsuits against the
able and experienced railroad counsel, or too willing
to settle a case for a quick dollar."
Over the years, the Hildebrand Firm has generated many offshoots. In the late 1940's. Cliff introduced George Bodel in Los Angeles to the
workings of the F.E.L.A. The Bodel & Fogel firm existed
for many years as the firm of Fogel, Feldman, Ostrov,
Ringler, & Klevens. In the next 20 years the Hildebrand
firm spawned many current attorneys working in the field,
Dick Crow ran Hildebrand's office in Los Angeles and
later became the Crow Firm. Cliff associated Carleton
Reiter and Monte Bricker whose firm was know as Bricker,
Zakovics, Querin, Thompson and Ritchy, and John Rossi
in Denver where his practice is known as Rossi, Cox,
In 1964 Cliff stole Frederick Nelson away from the Southern Pacific Law Department and thus
gained a brilliant and persuasive trial attorney. In
two years he was made a partner and the firm's name
became Hildebrand, McLeod & Nelson, a name which
is retained to date.
In 1967, David Draheim was plucked
away from the District Attorney's office expanding the
trial staff to four lawyers. The firm continued to aggressively
represent injured railroad workers and their families
in all of the railroad crafts.
Following the retirement of Clifton
Hildebrand and Charles McLeod in the late 1970s, Anthony
Petru was hired fresh out of law school in 1980. Since that time, Anthony has secured dozens of large jury verdicts on behalf of the firm's clients.
The firm continues its long history of excellent and vigorous representation of railroad workers and others who suffer personal injuries. With an extensive practice extending throughout the Western United States, the firm will maintain offices in Oakland and Los Angeles.