Roberta A. Kaplan
Roberta (“Robbie”) Kaplan is the founding partner of Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP. In July 2017, Robbie left Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP after 25 years to found Kaplan Hecker & Fink, seeking to build what she calls a “new fashioned, old fashioned” law firm that combines a cutting-edge civil and criminal litigation practice with a groundbreaking commitment to using the courts to serve the public interest.
A renowned litigator with decades of experience in commercial, higher education, and civil rights litigation, Chambers observed that Robbie “defines a modern-day legal giant. A towering intellect and a genius in court, with the instincts of a street fighter.” Sharon Nelles, head of litigation at Sullivan & Cromwell, is quoted in a profile of Robbie in the New York Law Journal explaining that Robbie “just sees things from a thousand different angles all at once, it’s hard to keep up with her thought processes. She knows her law cold, she knows the Constitution cold and she’s not afraid, if she sees a problem, to go figure out some law that’s going to allow her to fix it. She’ll find it.” “The consensus in the New York legal community is that [Robbie] is a powerhouse,” Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics professor at New York University School of Law, told Bloomberg Law for a profile. “She’s a lawyer that you don’t want to see opposing you.”
The Washington Post has described Robbie as “a brash and original strategist, with neither a gift for patience nor silence, a crusader for underdogs who has won almost every legal accolade imaginable.” Among the numerous honors and recognitions Robbie has received, she has been recognized as the 2020 "Attorney of the Year" by the New York Law Journal, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York Law Journal, and has been honored as “Litigator of the Year” by The American Lawyer, “Lawyer of the Year” by Above the Law, and “Most Innovative Lawyer of the Year” by The Financial Times. The Financial Times noted that “the judges had little trouble picking just one of them to win the award for most innovative individual – itself an innovation for the report this year. Robbie Kaplan has been involved in some of the most important legal developments of recent years.” Robbie has consistently been listed as one of the top litigators and top women litigators in the country, as well as one of the top lawyers in New York.
Among Robbie’s clients are a wide range of clients in the tech, financial services, and other sectors, including Airbnb, Riot Games, various hedge and private equity funds, Uber, Natixis, Goldman Sachs, and Fitch Ratings, who she represents in their most complex legal challenges, delivering a consistent track record of compelling advocacy, creative arguments, and impressive results.
Robbie has represented a number of companies in tech and the sharing economy. On behalf of Airbnb, she succeeded in obtaining a preliminary injunction on Fourth Amendment grounds blocking a New York City ordinance that would have required Airbnb to turn over massive amounts of data, a prospect that posed significant privacy concerns. See Airbnb, Inc. v. City of New York, 373 F. Supp. 3d 467 (S.D.N.Y. 2019)(Engelmayer, J.). Robbie ultimately secured a favorable settlement in that case addressing those issues. She has also represented Uber in several cases involving significant business and privacy concerns posed by government regulation.
Given that she is a proud New Yorker, Robbie has handled a wide variety of cases representing clients on Wall Street and in the financial services sector, including matters involving stock analysts’ recommendations, market timing in mutual funds, reinsurance transactions, and structured finance transactions. In the wake of the financial crisis in 2007, Robbie represented Fitch Ratings for several years in dozens of regulatory investigations and civil litigations in both state and federal court relating to Fitch's credit ratings of RMBS, CDO, and municipal bond transactions. As a result of these and other matters, Robbie has decades of experience dealing with the complex interplay between regulatory investigations and the civil lawsuits that almost inevitably follow. She is currently defending Natixis in a RMBS “repurchase” action in which the complaint seeks more than $500 million in damages.
Robbie has earned a reputation for helping top universities navigate their most pressing legal challenges. She has represented Columbia University for almost a decade in a number of cases related to Title IX and alleged gender-based misconduct, winning multiple motions to dismiss. See, e.g., Nungesser v. Columbia Univ., 169 F. Supp. 3d 353 (S.D.N.Y. 2016) and Roskin-Frazee v. Columbia Univ., 474 F. Supp. 3d 618 (S.D.N.Y. 2019). Robbie recently secured the dismissal of breach of contract claims in an ongoing litigation against Columbia University seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in tuition refunds related to the COVID-19 pandemic. See In re Columbia Tuition Refund Action, No. 20-CV-3208 (JMF), 2021 WL 790638 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 26, 2021)(Furman, J.). In January 2021, Robbie defeated a motion for a preliminary injunction in federal district court seeking to require Brown University to restore its men's and women's squash teams to varsity status. Robbie similarly secured a favorable settlement for Brown in high-profile litigation related to gender proportionality requirements in its athletics programs. Most recently, Robbie was chosen by the NCAA to conduct an independent investigation into gender equity issues involving the NCAA, including the NCAA women’s basketball championships.
Robbie has represented a number of women, both as plaintiffs and defendants, who have suffered from domestic abuse, sexual harassment, discrimination, or assault, including the actress Amber Heard in a $50 million defamation lawsuit filed by her ex-husband Johnny Depp, E. Jean Carroll, who sued Donald Trump for defamation in connection with a sexual assault that occurred in the mid-1990s, and “victim #1” in the Southern District of New York indictment of Jeffrey Epstein.
Throughout her career, Robbie has had a deep-seated commitment to using the law to advance the public interest – she founded Kaplan Hecker in order to put that mission where it deserves to be – at the center of the firm’s practice. She is perhaps best known for successfully arguing before the United States Supreme Court on behalf of her client Edith Windsor in United States v. Windsor, the landmark case in which the Supreme Court ruled that a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated the U.S. Constitution by barring legally married same-sex couples from enjoying the wide-ranging benefits of marriage. The consequences of the Windsor decision were both rapid and profound. Professor Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School has observed that he could not "think of any Supreme Court decision in history that has ever created so rapid and broad a lower-court groundswell in a single direction as Windsor." Following her victory in Windsor, Robbie successfully litigated several LGBTQ rights cases in Mississippi, including successfully challenging the City of Starkville’s denial of a permit for its first ever LGBTQ pride parade.
One of the very first cases filed by Kaplan Hecker was a high-stakes lawsuit under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 against twenty-four neo-Nazi and white supremacist leaders responsible for organizing the racial- and religious-based violence in Charlottesville in August 2017. See Sines v. Kessler, 324 F. Supp. 3d 765 (W.D. Va. 2018). In that case, Robbie and her team won a landmark decision assuring that white nationalists who plotted racially motivated violence in 2017 will be held accountable. Robbie has likewise worked to hold Donald Trump accountable for fraudulent conduct in his business activities through her representations of Mary Trump as well as a class of victims of Trump’s fraudulent promotion of a multi-level marketing company. As the Washington Post noted, “a hallmark of Kaplan Hecker & Fink is crafting complaints in layman’s language that packs a wallop. The Mary Trump brief is a doozy…” Mary Trump herself went further when describing Robbie to Bloomberg Law: “She’s brilliant, she’s unrelenting, she can’t be intimidated and she’s not going to back down. She eats bullies… for lunch.”
Robbie is the author of the book Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA (W.W. Norton), chosen by the L.A. Times as one of the top 10 books of 2015. President Bill Clinton noted that "United States v. Windsor was a landmark ruling and the case's architect, Roberta Kaplan, emerged as a true American hero. Then Comes Marriage is a riveting account of a watershed moment in our history, and the strategy, ingenuity, and humanity that made it happen." Rachel Maddow similarly noted that Robbie’s book “will forever change the understanding of this landmark case―its genesis, its outside-the-box strategy, and its tactical brilliance.”
In addition to an A.B. from Harvard College magna cum laude and a J.D. from Columbia Law School (where she teaches a seminar on advanced civil procedure), Robbie holds an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Johns Hopkins University and an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the Jewish Theological Seminary, among others.