Roberta Kaplan, left, with client Edith Windsor outside the U.S. Supreme Court after arguments related to the Defense of Marriage Act. March 27, 2013. (Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi)
Roberta Kaplan, the prominent New York attorney who successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, has left Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to form a litigation boutique.
Her new firm, Kaplan and Co. LLP, includes four lawyers for now, including partner Julie Fink, previously in-house counsel at Pfizer Inc. and a Paul Weiss attorney; senior counsel John Quinn, a former litigation associate of Sullivan & Cromwell; and associate Rachel Tuchman, a recent Yale Law School graduate. It will have offices in Manhattan’s Empire State Building.
Kaplan said she left Paul Weiss because she saw a market need for a nimble law firm where she would have more flexibility in negotiating billing rates and using flexible fee arrangements. She also said the new firm’s commitment to social justice has allowed her to attract top talent.
“I had a sense over the past five years … that the largest firms, Paul Weiss included, are having a harder and harder time in terms of business-to-business litigation,” she said. “The marketplace has changed such that a lot of the commercial litigation practice has been taken up by smaller firms,” which are doing cases that Paul Weiss would have done 20 years ago, she said.
“At a different firm, with a smaller, more flexible arrangement, I could be doing more of that work,” she said. “There’s a real hunger or demand in the market for firms that can do this work in a more flexible and more efficient way.”
Kaplan, 50, who left Paul Weiss last week, said she will continue to work on the vast majority of cases she had at Paul Weiss, including some as co-counsel with the firm.
Laura Buckland, vice president and chief litigation and IP counsel at T-Mobile USA, said the flexibility on rates and alternative fee arrangements is “an absolute bonus and critical.” Kaplan will continue representing T-Mobile USA in a case now on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
“It’s a great opportunity to have a commercial litigation boutique firm coming out of New York with the kind of deep experience that Robbie and her team have,” Buckland said. “Smaller firms can be more nimble and are often more efficient in how they work. It’s good for us have a variety of places we can go for legal services.”
A mission of Kaplan and Co. will be to meld a private commercial practice with public interest practice, said Kaplan, who will continue litigating LGBT civil rights and social justice cases and continue representing pro bono clients such as the Campaign for Southern Equality. “Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of social justice issues to litigate,” she said.
Kaplan is expecting to make more hires soon at the firm, which will be fully operational by August. By fall, the firm expects to have about 12 to 14 attorneys, said Kaplan, declining to name any new additions.
Brad Karp, chairman of Paul Weiss, said the firm wishes her well. “Robbie will always be a part of the Paul Weiss family,” he said. “We are proud of her accomplishments.”
Kaplan had practiced at Paul Weiss for about 25 years. The Cleveland-born, Harvard-and-Columbia-educated attorney began her career there, left to clerk for then-New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith Kaye for about 18 months and then returned to the firm.
She is best known for representing Edith Windsor in the landmark civil rights case United States v. Windsor, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act violated the U.S. Constitution by barring legally married same-sex couples from enjoying marriage benefits under federal law.
Kaplan has also had many notable business clients at Paul Weiss over the years, frequently in regulatory investigations and civil litigation. She has represented JPMorgan Chase, Fitch Ratings, the Minnesota Vikings, T-Mobile, Airbnb and Columbia University. Her practices include securities litigation, internal investigations and white-collar crime.
Early last year, other star female litigators at Paul Weiss, partners Beth Wilkinson and Alexandra Walsh in Washington, D.C., left to launch their own trial-focused boutique, Wilkinson Walsh Eskovitz. Likewise, several male partners at Paul Weiss have left to pursue other interests in the last few years, including Eric Goldstein, who became CEO of UJA-Federation of New York; Paul Ginsberg, who became COO and then president of private equity client Roark Capital; James Schwab, co-president of Vice Media; Toby Myerson, who left to form consulting firm Longsight Strategic Advisors; and Andrew Finch, who left for the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.