Solly Robins was born in 1913, the son of a Latvian immigrant who arrived in St. Paul in the late 1800s and went to work as a tailor. His father struggled with his health and the family struggled along with him. Solly began work as a newspaper boy at age nine, embarking on a life of hustling and hard work that continued until the day he died. He worked a full-time job through high school and saved enough for two years of college, but then the money ran out. When he didn’t return for his third year, he was summoned to school by the dean of his department. Solly explained that he didn’t have the funds to complete his education, but the dean wouldn’t hear of it. He arranged for Solly to continue his education by working for the Works Progress Administration. Solly was able to finish his college degree and continue on to law school, graduating in 1936. He never forgot what it felt like to get a hand up.
During his long and colorful career, Solly established a reputation in cases involving personal injury, product liability, antitrust and class actions. In the late 1950s, he won what was then the largest nonjury verdict in Minnesota – more than $350,000 – representing the Fuller Brush Co. and its insurer in a case involving a major gas explosion and fire. In the 1960s, he tried a medical malpractice case, which, for the first time, required doctors to inform patients of the risks of any procedure performed on them.
In 1964, Solly helped bring the principle of strict liability to Minnesota against makers of defective products when he represented a 3-year-old White Bear Lake, Minnesota girl who had been scalded by an electric vaporizer. The Minnesota Supreme Court case deciding the issue is still cited to this day.
Solly also successfully challenged the Minnesota state law that barred most retail sales on Sundays. The Minnesota Supreme Court struck it down in 1967.
"Solly was a lawyer's lawyer in all respects," Elliot Kaplan told the Star Tribune when Solly died in 1999. "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."
And, notes Mike Ciresi, "Solly was the consummate trial lawyer – he had the ability to mesmerize a jury from the moment he came into the courtroom until he completed his closing argument."
It is worth noting that Solly’s CV, published at the time of the firm’s 25th anniversary in 1963, included the following personal references: two United States Senators, Hubert H. Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy; one Congressman, Joseph Karth; and the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Orville Freeman.
Solly continued his legal profession well into his 80s, with no diminution of spirit or will. Sadly, he passed away in 1999 at the age of 86. “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 never be forgotten," notes Mike.
Words of wisdom, notable quotes and other “Solly-isms” worth remembering:
“You’ve got to outmaneuver your opponent.”
“It really doesn’t matter where you come from as long as you know where you are going!”
“Formula for perpetual ignorance: Be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge.”
“To succeed, it is necessary to accept the world as it is and rise above it.”
“We wouldn’t worry so much about what other people thought of us if we knew how seldom they did.”
“Try your utmost by example to do what is right.”
“And then he [the expert] knew that I knew and the jury felt, that I knew more than he did. I didn’t. I was just prepared.”
“No matter what you hear me preach today, I don’t always practice what I preach.”
“Act in haste; repent at leisure.”