Solly Robins, one of the state's finest trial lawyers, died on Monday, July 5, at the age of 86. Robins, a graduate of the University of Minnesota law school in 1936, founded the law firm of Robins, Davis and Lyons in 1938.
That firm is now known as Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P. Robins, and his long time friend, Julius E. Davis, started the firm at a time when most Twin Cities law firms were reluctant to hire Jewish lawyers. From a small office in the old Rand tower, the firm, over the past 60 years, has grown to be one of the most respected and well-recognized firms in the United States.
"Solly was the consummate trial lawyer," according to Michael Ciresi, present chairman of the firm's Executive Board. "He had the ability to mesmerize a jury, from the moment he came into the courtroom, until he completed his closing argument." Robins' courtroom achievements, throughout his 60-year career in the courtroom, have become legendary. In the late 1950's he won what was then one of the largest verdicts in Minnesota, over $350,000, representing Factory Mutual Insurance Company and Fuller Brush Company involving a major gas explosion. That case spearheaded the firm's move into representing insurers nationwide in the subrogation field. More so than any lawyer of his time, Robins championed the rights of the consumer and in 1964 tried the McCormack v. Hankscraft case that established the principle of strict liability against manufacturers. Several years later, he tried a medical malpractice case, Cornfeldt v. Tongen, that, for the first time, required doctors to inform patients of the risks of any procedure performed on them. "Solly always loved the 'little guy', the man or woman who had been taken advantage of," said Ciresi. "He made that person's cause his own and was able to bring to each case a creativity and imagination I've never seen in any other single lawyer, no matter what his age. And the marvelous thing about him was that he continued his representation of these people well into his 80s, with no diminution of spirit or will. He was one of a kind."
But Robins was more than a trial lawyer, said his partner of many years, Elliot Kaplan, and former Executive Board Chair. "He was a lawyer's lawyer in all respects. He was as much a counselor as he was an advocate and there wasn't any area of the law he wasn't intimately conversant with. He was a skilled labor lawyer; he advised corporations on their business dealings; he drafted wills and estate plans; he was one of the top family or domestic lawyers in the state. I can't think of a single area of the law he wasn't knowledgeable about. In this day and age of specialists and sub-specialists, he was a refreshing breath of fresh air."
Robins saw his firm grow to over 250 lawyers, with offices in nine cities. Its reputation became nationwide when it represented hundreds of women in the Dalkon Shield and Copper 7 IUD cases. The firm then went on to represent the Government of India in the Bhopal disaster and, more recently, the State of Minnesota and Blue Cross Blue Shield in the tobacco litigation.
"We have suffered an enormous loss," said Ciresi. "So has this entire legal community. However, Solly left behind a legacy of memories and goodwill that will transcend his death. Everyone who ever came in contact with him, whether client or not, knew him to be a giant among men. He will not be forgotten."
Robins leaves behind his wife, Kathleen, and six children: Stanford Robins, Mendota Heights; Celeste Robins, Madison, WI; Shari Perron, Minneapolis; James Robins, St. Paul; Sean Robins, Los Angeles; Shannon Robins, Minneapolis; four grandchildren and four great grandchildren.