John Quinn left a thriving career in Big Law after seven years as a litigator to help found Kaplan Hecker & Fink, a litigation boutique with a focus on high-stakes commercial litigation and high-impact public interest litigation.
Quinn was attracted to the firm because it viewed its public interest practice as an organizational value and because the move gave him the chance to create and develop a “deeply progressive workplace with a real commitment to diversity.”
“I made the jump because I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help lawyers, who were personal heroes of mine, build a new law firm based on all of the things I was most excited about doing, including building a dynamic commercial litigation practice that really fuses an old-fashioned concept of the lawyer with a highly efficient, cutting-edge approach to today’s legal challenges,” Quinn says.
The Old-fashioned, Public Interest Lawyer as a Growth Strategy
Quinn explains that one of the firm’s core values is the concept of the old-fashioned lawyer. As a boutique litigation firm, Kaplan Hecker committed to having a diverse litigation practice which includes expertise in various areas of the law and in various forums, as well as a varied client base from a wide range of industries and markets.
The firm’s intention to put a new twist on the bygone image of a lawyer “has a lot to do with a commitment to the integrity of the judicial system, the unique responsibility that lawyers have with respect to the rule of law and legal institutions, and the traditional role of the lawyer as a counselor and upholder of the judicial system,” Quinn states. The firm’s “new twist” on the old-fashioned attorney also involves innovative approaches to managing the litigation workflow.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the firm’s growth strategy is to bring big, precedent-setting cases that advance the public interest and have significant impact outside the courtroom. For example, the firm represents the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the 24 neo-Nazis and white supremacists who were responsible for the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017. In addition, it has represented numerous women who have been sued by prominent male public figures after sharing their #MeToo stories. The firm also took on the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn for unlawful treatment of inmates as the attorneys for the Federal Defenders of New York.
In addition, lawyers at the firm have filed amicus briefs challenging the US Government’s Muslim travel ban in 2017, the ban on transgender individuals in the US military, LGBT discrimination in the foster care process, and the failure of Medicaid to provide coverage for gender-affirming surgeries.
The firm’s growth strategy is working, Quinn says, and it now has grown a robust white-collar practice.
Quinn’s own practice follows the firm’s strategy for breadth and variety. He represents Uber and Airbnb in high-profile litigation involving the city governments of San Francisco and New York, respectively. He represents Gigi Hadid and Ariana Grande in copyright cases that raise new and interesting questions about copyright in the age of social media. And he represents and advises a wide range of other clients from a global investment firm to a prominent art estate. On the public interest front, he led the firm’s efforts to reverse an effort to block a gay pride march in Mississippi and spearheaded its development of a large RICO class action against President Donald Trump, his three eldest children, and the Trump Corporation.
Integrating Professional & Personal Passions for the LGBTQ Community
One of the proudest moments of Quinn’s time at the firm was a successful outcome in a case in Starkville, Miss., where he represented the leaders of Starkville Pride when the city government banned an LGBTQ pride parade in 2018.
Quinn and his colleagues at Kaplan Hecker filed a complaint in federal court arguing that the City of Starkville was unlawfully banning people from speaking on a public street because it disagreed with their message and disapproved of their sexual orientation. The complaint also asserted claims under the First and 14th Amendments. The city’s board of aldermen relented and allowed the march to go head.
Quinn flew to Starkville for the parade and saw first-hand the impact of the decision. “I saw lots of families, lots of young kids, all of whom are just seeing out-and-proud gay people celebrate their identity for the very first time,” Quinn recalls. “I can remember thinking, ‘This is the vanguard. This is where attitudes and realities are actually changing for real people right now. And I get to be a part of that and to help make that happen.’” Indeed, the case exemplified the firm’s mission of driving precedent-setting decisions that bring about social change and foster equal dignity for all.
One of the other reasons why Quinn loves working at Kaplan Hecker is because he is able to integrate his personal commitment to addressing the LGBTQ homelessness crisis in New York City through board membership of the Ali Forney Center.
About 40% percent of all homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, and more than 80% of them were kicked out of their homes for being who they are. The Ali Forney Center has the largest LGBTQ youth homeless shelter and community center in the United States. With a drop-in center in Harlem, the Ali Forney Center sees more than 1,500 clients every year, serves more than 60,000 hot meals, and hands out more than 500 coats each year. Half of the population the Ali Forney Center serves is from out of state and comes to New York City for acceptance. Unfortunately, they often show up at the bus station with very few resources or options, so the Ali Forney Center becomes a lifeline for these LGBTQ youth.
“I’m so honored to serve on the board, and I encourage people to learn more and help and support the organization in any way they can,” he adds. “But frankly, I’d also encourage people to demand more from their elected representatives. As a city, we can do better, and we really must.”