Solly Robins & Julie Davis
Keeping History Alive
March 12, 2013
Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P. originated in 1938, during the depths of the Depression. Partners Solly Robins and Julius (“Julie”) Davis started the firm when the then prevalent antisemitism prevented them from finding a place at the table among the other law firms in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Solly and Julie believed in these core values for their new firm: represent all types of people, particularly working people; represent all types of businesses and organizations; create a level playing field. Above all else, commit to achieving justice.
Robins was the trial lawyer; Davis the negotiator.
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.”
Julius ("Julie") Davis
Born on April 21, 1912 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Julie attended the University of Minnesota, receiving his law degree in 1936. Other than a time from 1942 to 1945 while serving in the United States Army (Military Police) he engaged in private practice continually until his death. Friends note that Julie was a born business lawyer and a good negotiator with an eye for the fine print.
Julie’s professional legal specialties were insurance, corporate finance and transportation law. He had contacts with a number of presidents and leading professionals of major banking institutions across the country.
Julie was the Owner, Vice President and Treasurer of Rodaly Investment, Inc., Minneapolis, a company engaged in various real estate investment activities. At one time the company owned the land under the Foshay and Rand Towers in downtown Minneapolis. He was also a member of the Association of Interstate Commerce Commission Practitioners as well as various local and national bar associations.
In September 1957, Julie became President of the Duluth-Superior Transit Co. The Duluth-Superior Transit Co. operated an urban mass transit system in the Duluth (Minnesota) and Superior (Wisconsin) areas. Julie spent two or three days a month en route checking on the company’s operation in addition to his full-time duties as head of his law firm.
Julie was a committed champion of the University of Minnesota and its Law School. He received the University of Minnesota Law School Alumni Service Award in 1972 and the Regents Award for exceptionally valuable service in 1977. When the Law School outgrew its location, he co-chaired the building campaign that culminated in the 1978 opening of the Law School's current West Bank home. The Davis Faculty Common Room was named in recognition of the efforts and gifts of the Davis family and law firm.
In 1979, Julie Davis died of cancer at the age of 66. The law firm now known as Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, L.L.P., his family and friends, established the first endowed chair at the Law School to honor his devotion and service: The Julius E. Davis Chair in Law. The chair rotates annually among faculty members in recognition of teaching and research excellence, and many Law School scholars have held the honor. After his death, his widow, Lillian “Babe” Davis, a renowned Twin Cities civic and cultural leader in her own right, continued recognizing recipients of the Davis Chair by sponsoring receptions at her home for many years and later at the Minneapolis Club.
Julie left a rich legacy in the Twin Cities legal and civic arenas, one that we’re honored to commemorate at the 75th anniversary of the firm he founded.
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