Roberta A. Kaplan
A renowned litigator with decades of experience in commercial, higher education, and civil rights litigation, Roberta (“Robbie”) Kaplan, left Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison after 25 years to start 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. Chambers has described Robbie as “a modern-day legal giant. A towering intellect and a genius in court, with the instincts of a street fighter.” Robbie also has the distinction of being probably the only lawyer to have taken the deposition of former president Donald J. Trump twice in two weeks.
Sharon Nelles, head of litigation at Sullivan & Cromwell, is quoted in a profile 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.” Stephen Gillers, professor at New York University School of Law, told Bloomberg Law that Robbie is “a lawyer that you don’t want to see opposing you.” Robbie’s client Mary Trump added that Robbie is “brilliant, she’s unrelenting, she can’t be intimidated and she’s not going to back down. She eats bullies for lunch.”
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 was 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.
Robbie represents clients in the tech, fintech and financial services industries as both plaintiffs and defendants in their most complex legal challenges, delivering a consistent track record of compelling advocacy, creative arguments, and winning results.
With respect to tech and the sharing economy, Robbie succeeded in obtaining a preliminary injunction for Airbnb 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.). She has also represented Uber in several cases involving significant business and privacy concerns posed by overly intrusive government regulation.
Robbie has handled a wide variety of cases representing clients on Wall Street and in the financial services sector, including matters involving “Special Purpose Acquisition Companies,” or SPACs, stock analysts’ recommendations, market timing in mutual funds, reinsurance transactions, structured finance transactions and multi-level marketing companies. In the wake of the financial crisis in 2007, Robbie represented Fitch Ratings in many 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. She recently represented Pershing Square in a case challenging the legitimacy of SPACs. 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 inevitably follow. Robbie is currently defending Natixis in an RMBS “repurchase” action in which the complaint seeks more than $500 million in damages.
Robbie has also been honored to represent peer law firms in connection with commercial and other disputes.
Robbie has earned a reputation for helping top universities navigate their most pressing legal challenges. She has had the privilege of representing Columbia University for over a decade in a number of cases related to Title IX and alleged gender-based misconduct, winning multiple motions to dismiss. Nungesser v. Columbia Univ., 169 F. Supp. 3d 353 (S.D.N.Y. 2016); 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 seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in tuition refunds related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In re Columbia Tuition Refund Action, 20 Civ. 3208, 2021 WL 790638 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 26, 2021) (Furman, J.). In January 2021, Robbie defeated a motion for a preliminary injunction seeking to require Brown University to restore its men’s and women’s squash teams to varsity status. Sterman v. Brown Univ., 513 F. Supp. 3d 243 (D.R.I. 2021). Robbie similarly secured a favorable settlement for Brown in high-profile litigation related to gender proportionality requirements in its athletics programs. Cohen v. Brown Univ., 16 F.4th 935 (1st Cir. 2021). Robbie was chosen by the NCAA to conduct a groundbreaking independent investigation into gender equity issues involving NCAA Division I Championships, including the controversy that arose at the Division I women’s basketball championships in 2021.
Robbie has represented a number of women, both as plaintiffs and defendants, who have suffered domestic abuse, sexual harassment, discrimination, and assault. On behalf of E. Jean Carroll, Robbie brought the very first case filed under New York’s Adult Survivors Act based on a sexual assault by Donald J. Trump that occurred at a department store in the mid-1990s. See Carroll v. Trump, 498 F. Supp. 3d 422 (S.D.N.Y. 2020) (Kaplan, J.). She also represented “victim #1” in the Southern District of New York’s indictment of Jeffrey Epstein.
Throughout her career, Robbie has always 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 challenging a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on behalf of her client Edith Windsor in the landmark case United States v. Windsor. 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. She also recently sued various state officials challenging the constitutionality of Florida’s notorious “Don’t Say Gay” law.
One of the very first lawsuits Kaplan Hecker filed was a high-stakes lawsuit against twenty-four neo-Nazi and white supremacist entities and leaders responsible for organizing the racial- and religious-based violence in Charlottesville in August 2017. In November 2021, after a four-week jury trial, Robbie and her team won a landmark $26 million verdict against the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who conspired to commit racially-motivated violence.
Robbie also represents President Biden’s daughter Ashley Biden in the SDNY criminal investigation that led to the guilty pleas of two individuals in connection with the theft of Ashley’s personal diary.
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 “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.