Advocating from the Heart
Founding Partner, Stinar Gould Grieco & Hensley
Bryce Hensley ’17 has always wanted to help people. His work in mass torts has him helping people on a larger scale than even he thought was possible.
Editor's note: this is an updated story from the the Fall 2023 Chicago-Kent Magazine. To read the magazine in full, follow this link.
“I always envisioned being a lawyer as being in the courtroom,” says Bryce Hensley ’17. “I wanted to be in front of a jury or talking to a judge. It’s just where I always saw myself. Once I got to actually experience it in trial ad, I knew that was where I belonged.”
Hensley initially came to Chicago-Kent College of Law with the goal of being a prosecutor, but within days of arriving, he fell in love with personal injury law instead.
He spent more than six years at Romanucci & Blandin LLC—a plaintiff’s personal injury firm—after he graduated from Chicago-Kent. He just made partner over the summer—at 31 years old and just over 5.5 years into practice.
“A lot of people go through life and horrible things happen. They’re injured. They’re hurt or become sick in some way, and they don’t know that there are options out there to help them,” he says, “So I took that and I ran with it because I wanted to provide that help. Now I’m in a position where I’m able to do that on a massive scale.”
Much of Hensley’s work is in the area of mass torts. In spring 2023, after five years of working on a toxic exposure case, Hensley helped secure a nine-figure global settlement for more than 870 plaintiffs (370 of his own clients) in the Willowbrook ethylene oxide cases who had been diagnosed with cancer and other illnesses due to toxic air emissions from local sterilization facilities.
When he talks about the case, Hensley doesn’t want to talk about the money. For him, it’s about justice for his clients.
“It’s humbling in a lot of ways. These are people who suffered the worst kind of conditions imaginable,” Hensley says. “Most of them diagnosed with cancer, a portion of them being diagnosed with miscarriages and other health conditions. The devastation those diagnoses can have on somebody and hearing those stories not just once or twice, but over 350 times over, emotionally, it’s a lot.”
“Nothing can replace the time, the lives, the health that’s lost, but the result is something that is justice,” he adds. “Especially knowing that these companies are now gone from the area completely, they no longer operate there. That was a huge victory in and of itself.”
But the results of his practice have gone beyond individual settlements.
“You always want to see results at the end of the day, but you want to make an impact larger than just that specific case,” he says. “The standards surrounding ethylene oxide are more stringent now, facilities have shut down, communities are safer, people are safer as a result. Those are the kind of things you strive for. “
Hensley earned his stripes representing 75 victims of the October 1, 2017, Las Vegas mass shooting just days after being sworn in as a lawyer. In his 6 years of practice, Hensley has helped over 530 people recover for their losses.
“The thing that I love most about what I do is helping people through the worst moments of their lives and helping them obtain some form of justice for it,” Hensley says. “With the cases I’ve been fortunate enough to work on, it gives me that opportunity to help people, but on the largest scale possible.”
Hensley’s connection to his clients, his recognition of their humanity, and empathy for their plight, in addition to his work ethic, is what makes him such a great lawyer, says Antonio Romanucci, founding partner at Romanucci & Blandin.
It’s also set him on a path toward future success in his profession.
“We get clients after tragedy, after catastrophe, after heartbreak, death. We get them at their worst. If we don’t give them the empathy that they need, they won’t trust us. They won’t have confidence in us,” says Romanucci. “You can’t teach somebody that. You can’t force somebody to want to take care of the client. Bryce cares about the end result in finding justice and gaining accountability.”
“I have great predictions for him—in the future that he will be Chicago’s top litigator.”
Hensley says he owes much of his success to the trial advocacy program at Chicago-Kent, particularly Judge David A. Erickson, the director of the program.
“Coach, mentor, role model, whatever you want to call it, that was him,” Hensley says of Erickson. “At every single major crossroads that I had, he was there in some way, shape, or form: after my first year of law school, during my second and third years of law school, after law school. Just across the board, every major decision I ever had to make, there was Judge Erickson pointing me in the right direction.”
Hensley credits Erickson with teaching him foundational law skills such as how to cross-examine witnesses, how to talk about evidence, how to present in front of the jury, among other skills.
But that’s not what made his experience at Chicago-Kent so special.
“There were life lessons that you learned through the trial ad program that you can’t get anywhere else, and there’s no amount of education or price you could pay for that,” he says. “There’s that confidence that you know how to litigate a case, how to try a case. Walking into a courtroom right out of law school, surrounded by some of the best lawyers in the country, and being able to sit there and hold my own—when push comes to shove, Kent’s trial team equipped me for that better than I could have ever imagined.”
Hensley just opened his own practice
Also on the docket: returning to Chicago-Kent every chance he gets to help coach and mentor the next generation of litigators in the trial advocacy program.
“The program is really tight knit. It’s a family,” he says. “I don’t want it to be lost that there are a lot of people who volunteer their time and energy to make sure that this program stays afloat. I can’t emphasize how important that is and how much of an impact it has.”
“I mean, if there’s any testament to that, it’s me.”