Brad Karp of Paul Weiss is finalist for NYLJ Attorney of the Year. (Photo by David Handschuh/NYLJ) David Handschuh/ © 2018 ALM Media Properties, LLC.
Brad Karp: chairman of Paul,Weiss

Senior lawyers can be reluctant to speak in public about controversial issues. With Brad Karp, not so much.

When the Trump administration instituted a policy this year of separating migrant and refugee children from their parents, and then (after rescinding it) prolonging the detention of families seeking asylum, the chairman of the New York law firm Paul, Weiss decided it was time for a unified statement from the legal profession challenging the White House.

With Gary Wingens, managing partner of Lowenstein Sandler, Mr Karp drafted an opinion piece that appeared in The New York Times and spoke for 34 lawyers leading major law firms.

“When the Trump administration announced the family separation policies, it was a clear violation of the rule of law and an assault on fundamental liberties,” Mr Karp says.

“This was a national problem that called for a national solution . . . so it was critically important to activate the national bar. It was a call to arms and we needed to galvanise our resources and take an emphatic stance.”

Mr Karp is a leading trial lawyer who has turned Paul, Weiss into one of the most profitable law firms in the US. The winner of a Financial Times Innovative Lawyers 2018 special achievement award, he has taken a stand before. In March he and a colleague called for the repeal of a law shielding gun makers and sellers from lawsuits, an open challenge to the National Rifle Association, one of the US’s most powerful lobby groups.

Paul, Weiss has also developed a reputation as a champion of religious, ethnic and gender diversity. Its lawyers were among those who headed to airports to assist travellers affected by the January 2017 ban on entry to the US for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, an early example of the profession mobilising against the president’s more hardline policies.

“It can be challenging to mobilise the bar in support of a particular cause — the last time this strategy had been successfully deployed was in the 1960s during the civil rights movement,” says Mr Karp.

He believes the president will continue to create work for lawyers who want to defend the rule of law — including Mr Trump’s attempts to deny asylum to the “caravan” of people fleeing poverty and violence in Central America.

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