Bankruptcy attorney Grace Robson is well-acquainted with the value of hard work.
Growing up in Long Island, the Fort Lauderdale-based lawyer and partner at Markowitz Ringel Trusty & Hartog watched as her parents — both Korean expatriates — worked at their family-owned dry cleaning store to eke out a living for Robson and her brother.
“My parents were always working very hard,” Robson told the Daily Business Review, noting that she didn’t see them much and spent a considerable amount of time with her grandmother. As a “young, first-generation child from a family of immigrants from Korea,” Robson said her family instilled in her the value of putting her back into all her endeavors from a very early age, even if she didn’t realize it at the time.
“I probably didn’t appreciate it as much until I started working with them when I was probably 12 or 13,” Robson recounted. “I saw that sacrifices had to be made so that you could get by on a day-to-day basis.”
Robson’s fascination with the law began while enrolled in a criminal justice course during her junior year of high school. While the class material was a far cry from her eventual career in bankruptcy and debtor-creditor relations, it awoke something in Robson, namely, a deeply held belief in the importance and value of a functioning legal system.
“I saw it as a profession where people were always looking to do the right thing. I saw it as justice. I always thought that education and the legal profession could be an equalizer for people who did not have the means or were not financially wealthy,” Robson said. “But you could always catch up and do well for yourself if you work hard, get a good education and do things the right way.”
Robson remained in her native New York for her studies, earning her undergraduate degree at State University of New York as well as her J.D. from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. While at law school, she wrestled with whether she wanted to practice corporate law or become a litigation attorney.
It wouldn’t be long before she was introduced to the idea of entering the world of bankruptcy law.
“I had a neighbor who was also a law student and a couple of years ahead of me, and she had said, ‘Well, if you’re not sure which one you prefer and you want to get experience doing both, you should look into bankruptcy because in bankruptcy you get to do transactional work and you get to do litigation,’” Robson recounted. “So I did an internship and clerked at a law firm doing that and I took the bankruptcy course. And once you get a little bit of bankruptcy, then you know you get into that.”
According to her colleagues, the idealism and refined work ethic that first propelled Robson into her law career is still readily apparent. According to Patricia Redmond, a shareholder at Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson in Miami and adjunct professor at the University Of Miami School Of Law, one of the traits setting Robson apart from her peers is her affability, or grace.
“I think how she conducts herself personally and as a bankruptcy attorney is the same. If she tells you something you can count on it, and when she has a difficult circumstance she approaches it courteously and professionally,” Redmond said. “When you have a question, or clients are disagreeing and contentious, Grace is the person I would want on the other side of a case. With her you can make sure you’ll get to a resolution.”
Redmond first met Robson while she was an associate at Berger Singerman. Redmond notes that the two of them served as opposing counsel on a couple of cases, an arrangement she describes as “adverse on a couple of matters.”
However, the timbre of their relationship changed when Robson approached Redmond about becoming more involved in pro bono work.
“About eight years ago Grace asked me to go to lunch and told me she wanted to be in a lot of organizations. She had an incredibly strong commitment to pro bono work and wanted to do more with the American Bar Association,” Redmond said.
Despite Robson’s already considerable workload, Redmond said she proceeded to further immerse herself “in everything that’s positive about being a lawyer in the Southern District of Florida.”
Among the superlative adjectives scattered in Robson’s resume — “Best,” “Super,” “Top 50” and “Top 100” being among them — one phrase sticks out the most: pro bono. In addition to the numerous pro bono clients she’s represented, Robson has served as the co-chair of the Pro Bono Services Subcommittee for the American Bar Association as well as the co-chair of the Pro Bono Committee for the Bankruptcy Bar Association of the Southern District of Florida.
Although Robson rose through the ranks and built her name as an expert on bankruptcy law, it’s in her pro bono work where her reputation as an ardent and dedicated attorney has been solidified.
“She never says no. Some lawyers have one pro bono case … but Grace takes lots of pro bono cases,” Redmond said. “Some people do pro bono because they’re told that’s their obligation as a lawyer… but Grace enjoys helping people have access to the court because they wouldn’t [otherwise] have access to it.”
One of her most notable pro bono cases was also one with the most wide-ranging impact. In December 2016, Robson and managing partner Jerry Markowitz helped represent Switchboard of Miami, a long-running crisis hotline that operated as a not-for-profit. While Switchboard was facing bankruptcy, Robson, Markowitz and a team of attorneys operating pro bono were able to keep the organization’s staff employed, and preserve resources and programs by transferring them to Jewish Community Services.
“We were able to keep [Switchboard] going by selling everything built into it to another not-for-profit so the community could continue to be served,” Robson said. “We all were more than willing to volunteer our time to help get that done.”
Looking ahead to the remainder of 2018, Robson anticipates pressing ahead with the same fervor.
“This year I’m going to the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges like I do every year. We’re putting on a pro bono panel on student loan discharge ability issues and how to best assist individuals with student loan debt to see if they qualify. And if so, to put them through the bankruptcy case system,” Robson said.
A big goal is to help clients navigate murky financial waters.
“It’s nothing I can talk about publicly per se,” she said. “But [always] helping companies in distress.”
Grace E. Robson
Born: Aug. 17, 1972, Queens, New York
Spouse: Mark Robson
Children: Owen and Lucas
Education: Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, J.D., 1997; State University of New York, University Center at Albany, B.A., 1994
Experience: Partner, Markowitz Ringel Trusty + Hartog, 2011-present; Member, Hough Kubs & Robson, 2009-2011; Associate, Berger Singerman, 2001-2009