When Brad Karp interviewed to be a summer associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, he was in awe of the firm’s history such as its work with Thurgood Marshall on Brown v. Board of Education.

When he became an associate at the firm, he was mentored by Simon Rifkind, who helped envision New Deal programs and fought for needy Holocaust survivors, and Arthur Liman, who investigated the Attica prison uprising.

“Paul Weiss has always been known for its willingness to do the right thing, to fight for justice and fairness, to represent the underdog, to give back to the community, to take on important matters of social justice, pro bono,” Karp told the New York Law Journal. “These were attributes that made the firm attractive to me when I joined as a summer associate in 1983 and these values have become part of my and the firm’s DNA that I feel duty-bound to protect as chair.”

While many law firm leaders are reticent to take public stands that might offend clients, Karp sees it as a moral imperative. It’s as crucial to him as winning cases, increasing profits, mentoring associates and maintaining high ethical standards.

“Writing op-ed pieces and organizing task forces have enabled me to shine a spotlight on issues of social injustice and helped me coalesce the private bar to remedy these issues,” he said. “I genuinely believe, when all is said and done, that lawyers both in private practice and in public interest organizations will be among the heroes of this resistance movement.”

The issues he feels most passionately about include promoting gun control and curbing gun violence, championing reproductive rights, protecting immigrants who face deportation and fighting the administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the border.

In an opinion piece on the immigration issue that was published June 25 by The New York Times, Karp and co-author Gary Wingens, the chairman and managing partner of Lowenstein Sandler, wrote, “We speak for a group of lawyers who lead 34 major American law firms. As a group, we cannot stand by as our government, under the pretext of enforcing the law, violates it and traumatizes children and their parents in the process.”

Paul Weiss, working with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, sent a team of lawyers to represent parents detained near the border in Texas. The firm’s pro bono efforts on immigration were bolstered by 342 Paul Weiss lawyers, about one-third of the staff.

Exhorted by Karp, Paul Weiss lawyers boosted their pro bono commitments, spending a record 100,563 hours on pro bono matters last year, up 35.6 percent from 2016, according to the firm.

Karp has also been an outspoken critic of the gun lobby. In an opinion piece he wrote for The New York Times with H. Christopher Boehning, a partner at the firm, he called for the repeal of a law that shields the gun industry from liability.

“While motor vehicle deaths have declined over the last two decades, firearm deaths have not: According to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people now die from firearms than motor vehicle accidents. This disturbing reality exists in large part because, unlike other industries, gun manufacturers and sellers are shielded from legal accountability,” they wrote.

Karp took a leading role in forming the Firearms Accountability Counsel Task Force in 2016, an advocacy group that brought together seven top law firms and nonprofits to fight gun violence. Robyn Thomas, executive director of one such group, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said Karp called her the day after the Orlando shooting to say something must be done immediately.

“I know that Paul Weiss is involved in everything from immigration issues to LGBTQ issues, represented Edith Windsor at the Supreme Court and many similar types of cases,” she said. “These are not easy issues to get involved in. When you get involved in marriage equality or gun violence or immigrant rights you are really stepping into a very charged arena.”

At the same time, Paul Weiss, under Karp’s leadership, continued to make handsome profits.

“In 2017, Brad presided over the firm’s 10th consecutive year of record-breaking profits, revenues and pro bono hours, during which time PPEP (now $4.56 million), revenues (now $1.3 billion) and pro bono hours (now 100,000-plus) more than doubled—a record unmatched among U.S. firms,” the firm wrote in its application for him to be attorney of the year.

“This remarkable record reflects Brad’s success in reorienting the firm towards its five market-leading practices: public M&A, private equity, litigation, white-collar/regulatory defense and restructuring—and on nurturing strategic client relationships,” the firm said.

Among Karp’s successes in the courtroom was the resolution of a criminal money-laundering investigation that involved the firm’s client Citibank, and was described as dramatically more favorable than prior bank enforcement resolutions.

He also continued to lead the NFL’s defense of the historic concussion class action settlement he negotiated. Jeff Pash, executive vice president and general counsel of the National Football League, is a big fan of Karp’s.

“He’s thoughtful. He’s focused. He doesn’t have to have someone do some research for him to quote-unquote bring him up to speed,” Pash said. “He knows the issues. He understands why you’re calling and he gives crisp and good practical advice.”

But, Pash adds, it may not always be the advice you want to hear.

“He does not find himself on the wrong side of an issue too often and sometimes that can be frustrating because he’ll tell you what you might not want to hear as a client—that you’re probably on the wrong side of the line here,” he said.

Brad Karp, Chairman of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison
(Photo by David Handschuh/NYLJ)