Roberta “Robbie” Kaplan will be the speaker for the Class Day ceremonies at Harvard Law School on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Kaplan was chosen by representatives of this year’s graduating class.
A formidable litigator with decades of experience in both commercial and civil rights litigation, Kaplan is the founding partner at Kaplan Hecker & Fink, a new law firm fusing a high-stakes litigation practice with a groundbreaking public interest practice. The firm has attracted an exceptional, diverse group of attorneys from around the country, with backgrounds ranging from government service, to criminal defense, to in-house, and private practice.
Kaplan has quickly emerged as an unparalleled force for equal rights and dignity for all. In the past two years, she co-founded the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, filed a lawsuit under The KKK Act of 1871 against twenty-four neo-Nazi and white supremacist leaders responsible for the violence in Charlottesville in August 2017, successfully challenged the City of Starkville’s refusal to allow a LGBT Pride Parade, and is currently representing Moira Donegan in a defamation lawsuit relating to the publication of a widely circulated list of media men accused of sexual misconduct. Kaplan’s firm has also challenged the unlawful treatment of inmates at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, and has filed amicus briefs in numerous major civil rights cases before the Supreme Court and circuit courts. She also represents clients such as Uber, Airbnb, Columbia University, T-Mobile, and Fitch Ratings in some of their most pressing legal challenges.
Before launching her new firm, Kaplan was best known for successfully representing her client Edith Windsor in United States v. Windsor, ultimately arguing the case before the United States Supreme Court. In Windsor, 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 benefits of marriage conferred under federal law. The consequences of the Windsor decision were both rapid and profound, leading to marriage equality nationwide two years later.
Kaplan is the author of the book “Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA” (W.W. Norton), which was chosen by several publications as one of the top books of 2015. She is the chair of the board of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the nation’s first and leading HIV/AIDS services organization. And Kaplan currently serves as an adjunct professor of law at Columbia Law School, where she teaches a seminar on Advanced Civil Procedure.
Kaplan has received numerous honors and recognitions for her legal work. She was recently named one of the Top 10 Female Litigators in the country by Benchmark Litigation and was recognized by the American Lawyer for her work on behalf of Airbnb in its constitutional challenge to a New York City regulation requiring the company to turn over unprecedented amounts of information relating to its users. In addition to receiving the Gold Medal Award from the New York State Bar Association and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York Law Journal, she has also been selected by The National Law Journal as one of “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers” in the United States, as “Litigator of the Year” by The American Lawyer, as “Lawyer of the Year” by Above the Law, and as the “Most Innovative Lawyer of The Year” by The Financial Times.