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Philadelphia’s Fine Kaplan & Black, a tiny-but-prominent antitrust boutique, has long had a “no growth” policy that was put in place to ensure that the firm would remain “more like a family and less like a business.” But a rare exception is being made this week as attorney Roberta D. Liebenberg of Liebenberg & White joins the firm, along with associate Mary D. Russell. The addition of one new partner and one associate will account for a 20 percent increase in partners and a 33 percent increase in the number of associates. Attorney Arthur Kaplan insists the move should not be viewed as the beginning of a trend. “This is a first for us. And it’s not setting a precedent either — it’s a first and it might be the last,” Kaplan said. Kaplan said founding partner Aaron Fine used to be partner at the Dilworth firm and was intent on fostering a different environment by keeping his new firm small. “We had a no-growth policy for a long time,” Kaplan said. Each time the firm added even one person, such as a paralegal, Kaplan said there would be “major discussions” and “heart-rending conversations.” The firm does everything by consensus, he said, and the prospect of adding new people always raised fundamental questions such as “Where are we going?” and “What do we really want to be?” Once, he said, a prospective client wanted the firm to take on several hundred asbestos defense cases. “We decided that, profitable or not, it wasn’t what we wanted to do with out lives, and it wasn’t the way we wanted to practice law,” Kaplan said. The firm’s “presumption against growth” has lasted over the years, as Fine Kaplan has routinely rejected talks of taking in lateral partners, sometimes large groups of lawyers. Liebenberg said, “You don’t find a lot of firms like this.” Kaplan said that Liebenberg was the rare exception since she has formed such strong professional relationships and friendships with nearly everyone in the firm. Liebenberg said her departure from partner Ann White was an amicable one and that joining Fine Kaplan was “the next logical step, having worked closely together on a number of cases.” A 1970 graduate of the University of Michigan, Liebenberg went on to the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University where she earned her J.D. in 1975. The gap between degrees occurred because after college, Liebenberg taught high school for a year on Maryland’s southern shore where, she says, most kids could not read or write. “They had not much hope and not many chances,” she said. The frustration prompted Liebenberg to pursue law. “I felt that being a lawyer, you could effectuate change,” she said. After law school, Liebenberg clerked on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and then went to work for Richmond, Va.-based Hunton & Williams, the former firm of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell. “I was one of the first women in the litigation department,” she said. When Liebenberg’s husband got a job in Philadelphia, she moved and joined Philadelphia-based Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen in 1978. She made partner in 1984 and stayed until 1992 when she left to form Mager Liebenberg & White, also in Philadelphia. “We were one of the first all-women owned law firms that concentrated their practice in complex commercial litigation. We did it at a time when there was a lot of excitement about women — it was the Year of the Woman in 1992, and a lot of women were running for office. There were also a lot of opportunities for women running firms,” she said. Several years ago, Liebenberg and Ann White left Carol Mager and took two partners and five associates to open an office in Jenkintown, Penn. Throughout her career, Liebenberg has worked on both sides of the aisle, doing both plaintiffs’ and defense work in the areas of antitrust and complex commercial litigation. In more recent years, she has extended her practice into the employment area. Attorney Howard Sedran of Philadelphia’s Levin Fishbein Sedran & Berman described Liebenberg as “one of the leading women antitrust lawyers in the country. … She truly has a national reputation.” Sedran, who has worked with Liebenberg both as an opponent and on the same side, said some large firms were hoping to get Liebenberg, but that he sees Fine Kaplan as a perfect fit. “Fine Kaplan is one of the great boutique litigation firms in the country. For their size, it’s really astonishing what a stellar reputation they have across the country. I think it’s because they write some of the best briefs you’ll ever read — they’re really killer brief writers,” Sedran said. Liebenberg said one of the aspects of the firm that most attracted her was that it is “very selective,” in the cases it brings as plaintiff, and that they do some defense work. “Antitrust is one of those areas where you’re seeing big firms who are now representing plaintiffs,” she said. Working on both sides, she said, “makes you think about different ways of approaching a case.” Liebenberg said she was also attracted to the firm’s commitment to pro bono work. “This is a firm that has not lost sight of the fact that we as lawyers have to undertake certain professional and civic responsibilities,” she said. Attorney Allen Black stuck his head into the conference room during Liebenberg’s interview with The Legal Intelligencer and said “What a great catch, huh?” Black described Liebenberg as “a great lawyer, a very nice person, fun to be around — what more could you want?” Liebenberg, who celebrated her 51st birthday on Wednesday, said, “It’s important to enjoy what you do.” Young lawyers, she said, “seem miserable to me sometimes. It’s important to have passion in your life and in the work that you do.” As a mother of three — now aged 26, 21 and 14 — Liebenberg said that navigating a successful legal career and home life was “very hard because I did antitrust work and traveled a lot.” Liebenberg credited her husband as a “terrific supporter,” but said that she also counsels women lawyers not to push themselves too hard and not to obey anyone else’s concept of a career path and schedule. “One of the things I try to mentor young women about is: you can have it all, but maybe you don’t want to have it all at the same time,” she said.

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