Roberta Kaplan, the litigator made famous for her work overturning the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor, has left Paul Weiss after 25 years to form her own commercial litigation boutique.
Her new firm, Kaplan and Company LLP, currently includes four lawyers, but will double in size when it moves into its new Empire State Building office at the beginning of August, Kaplan told Big Law Business. By September, she hopes to have between 12 and 15 lawyers total.
Until then, Kaplan and her new hires are occupying a temporary space while they launch the firm. During a Friday afternoon call with Big Law Business, Kaplan said the mood among her staff was celebratory.
“We’ve been having champagne and listening to Chance the Rapper,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan said she began thinking about leaving Paul Weiss while working for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign last year. She hoped to move to Washington, D.C. for a job in a Clinton administration.
“Alas, as we all know, that didn’t come to pass,” Kaplan said. “So I started thinking about the idea of starting a firm. I’m not young anymore, so if I was ever going to do it, now is the time.”
Kaplan, who studied law at Columbia University, joined Paul Weiss as an associate and was made partner in her seventh year. She said most of her clients will follow her to Kaplan and Company, but that many of them will continue to work with Paul Weiss as well.
Kaplan rose to national prominence through her representation of Edith Windsor, who challenged a provision of DOMA that banned same-sex couples from enjoying the benefits of marriage under federal law. The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor paved the way for the 2015 landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage across the United States.
Kaplan said she plans to keep that kind of public service work front and center at her new firm.
“It’s part of my DNA, it’s in my bones, that from a lawyer’s perspective there is and should be no difference between a pro bono client and a paying client,” Kaplan said. “I fully intend to keep representing all of my clients, from Campaign for Southern Equality to T-Mobile, to Fitch Ratings.”
On Thursday, she and associate Rachel Tuchman filed a petition for rehearing en banc on behalf of the Campaign for Southern Equality in a Fifth Circuit case challenging a Mississippi law that exempts people with three specific religiously-based beliefs from anti-discrimination laws.
“A key component of what this firm will be doing is combining a civil and corporate litigation practice with a commitment to social justice issues,” Kaplan said. “Not only is that the right thing to do, but it has the added benefit of enabling the firm to attract a stunning level of quality in our associates.”
Kaplan said she recognizes her woman-led firm is an outlier among commercial litigation boutiques, and she intends to make diversity a priority in her hiring decisions.