SEDUCED BY TRIAL LAW
Robin Gibbs on the opportunity that he saw 40 years ago
for small firms in commercial litigation
INTERVIEW CONDUCTED AND EDITED BY ADAM WAHLBERG
Q: How long have you lived in Texas?
A: I lived in upstate New York in the
Catskills for about eight years, moved to
Fort Worth in 1957. Moved to Houston
in ’ 71 and this has been our home for 40
Q: Did you always plan to do commercial
A: I came to commercial litigation with
malice aforethought. I started my career
in 1971 at Vinson & Elkins as a trial lawyer
in their insurance defense section trying
personal injury, insurance defense cases,
malpractice, products liability and the
like. I did that for three years and I decided
during that period of time that I really
wanted to go for my own law firm and that
I wanted to take the experience that I had
in trying cases and apply it in a commercial
litigation context. I wanted to build a
law firm and a practice that centered on
commercial litigation rather than personal
injury practice. So that’s what I did.
Q: Do you remember the moment when
you became interested in law?
A: I vividly recall it: When I was about
17 years old, I had an uncle named Pat
Maloney in San Antonio who was a high-profile plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer,
and Pat used to talk to me for hours about
his cases. I became fascinated with the law,
and particularly with trial law, based upon
that. I was entirely seduced by the concept
and from that point on, I never wanted to
do anything else but be a trial lawyer.
Q: What about trial law do you love?
A: It provides an opportunity for you to be
the producer, the director and one of the
chief protagonists in the presentation of
the production, which is a trial. It provides
tremendous intellectual stimulus,
obviously, and of course it provides plenty
of excitement and risk because at the end
of a trial, a jury is going to come with a
verdict and there’s going to be a winner
and there’s going to be a loser. It really
combines, from my point of view, the
best of all things that any profession or
business opportunity has to offer.
Q: How large is your current firm?
A: We have 30 lawyers. Our philosophy
has been to control the growth as tightly
as possible. You have to achieve a certain
gravity, I suppose, in order [to handle]
quite a number of high-stakes, bet-the
company-type cases at a time, so you
need to have enough lawyers, to field a
team of lawyers, to do that. At the same
time, there’s little to be gained in our
simply adding numbers. We run this
firm pretty much as an old-fashioned
partnership, and intimacy, and the people
you practice with, are of paramount
Q: What’s the biggest recent piece of
complex litigation you’ve worked on?
A: The [Port of Houston] case. We worked
that case up for the better part of a
couple years before it went to trial, which
is pretty typical.