Roberta “Robbie” Kaplan to Deliver 2023 Commencement Keynote

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Albany Law School is excited to announce that Roberta “Robbie” Kaplan, will deliver the keynote address at the Law School’s 172nd Commencement ceremony on Friday, May 19, 2023 at 10 a.m. 

Robbie Kaplan Headshot

Kaplan successfully argued before the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of LGBTQ rights activist Edith Windsor, in United States v. Windsor, a landmark decision that invalidated a section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) requiring the federal government to recognize marriages of same-sex couples.

Professor Laurence Tribe of Harvard University School of Law, who recently became Of Counsel at Kaplan’s law firm, observed at the time that he could not, “think of any Supreme Court decision in history that has ever created so rapid and broad a lower-court groundswell in a single direction as Windsor.”

Kaplan went on to author Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA, chosen by the Los Angeles Times as one of the top 10 books of 2015. Former President Bill Clinton noted that, “Then Comes Marriage is a riveting account of a watershed moment in our history, and the strategy, ingenuity and humanity that made it happen.”

The Washington Post has described Kaplan as, “a brash and original strategist, with neither a gift for patience nor silence, a crusader for underdogs who has won almost every legal accolade imaginable.”

Kaplan currently leads some of the country’s highest-profile commercial and public interest litigation, from suing the neo-Nazis behind the violence in Charlottesville to representing E. Jean Carroll, Mary Trump and investors in ACN in lawsuits against Donald Trump. 

“I have no doubt that our graduates and their families will be inspired and motivated by Robbie Kaplan,” said Albany Law School President and Dean Alicia Ouellette ’94. “She is a force of nature with a law degree – the kind of high-profile, relentless changemaker who makes a difference in our world.  No matter their future path, our graduates have much to learn from her.”

Kaplan left Big Law to found Kaplan Hecker & Fink (“KHF”) in 2017 as a new kind of law firm blending a high-stakes commercial and white-collar practice with a fundamental commitment to public interest cases centered on values of inclusion, equity and justice. The firm is majority women- and LGBTQ+-owned and more than 75 percent of its attorneys identify as women, people of color and/or LGBTQ+.

KHF takes on groundbreaking, precedent-setting cases that not only advance the public interest, but have a significant impact beyond the courtroom – especially for women and other marginalized groups. In pioneering this new kind of boutique law firm, Kaplan has redefined the traditional concept of “pro bono” by taking on important matters – both to the firm and the public – and ensuring they are at the core of the firm’s practice.

Kaplan has been widely recognized for her impact and leadership, including with the New York State Bar Association’s Gold Medal Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York Law Journal, which also named her Attorney of the Year in 2020. Kaplan was also named Litigator of the Year by The American Lawyer and Most Innovative Lawyer of the Year by The Financial Times. 

Chambers has described Kaplan as “a modern-day legal giant. A towering intellect and a genius in court, with the instincts of a street fighter.”

In addition to an A.B. from Harvard College (magna cum laude) and a J.D. from Columbia Law School – where she teaches a seminar on advanced civil procedure – Kaplan holds honorary doctorates from Johns Hopkins University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, among others.

Want to watch Kaplan's speech? Stream it here.