By Celia Ampel
Miami attorney Abbey Kaplan believes the “Real Housewives” series is “complete lunacy” — but he’s seen plenty of episodes.
Kaplan carved out time to watch the show when his pop-culture-loving daughter was a teenager so he would have an easier time connecting with her.
“When I used to travel, as an example, I would always buy a People magazine so that when I came back, there would be things that I’d be able to have in common with her and could talk to her about,” Kaplan said.
The business litigator’s belief in finding common ground has helped him win over juries, forge relationships with opposing counsel and grow his 30-lawyer firm, Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine.
Kaplan did not always know he would be an attorney. Like many kids, he wanted to be a professional baseball player, like his idol Mickey Mantle. But at age 13, he was hit in the face with a tennis ball and became blind in his right eye. His dreams dashed, he realized he needed to start on a path toward a different career.
He worked his way through college and law school as a women’s shoe salesman, chatting up people from all different walks of life — including his future wife, attorney Alyne Wrubel Kaplan. Those years taught him the importance of being able to connect with any type of person.
“You have the size fives and you have the size tens,” he said. “You have the women who want to spend a lot of money and the women who can’t spend a lot of money.”
It’s not always easy to meet people on their level, Kaplan said, particularly when you represent business clients who jurors might struggle to relate with. In 1991, Kaplan felt stuck as he prepared to ask for punitive damages in a trademark infringement case.
“I was really struggling with how do you reach common ground with a jury on punitive damages?” he said. “How do you explain to them what it means to punish somebody in the business sense?”
He consulted with his law partner, Alan Kluger, who suggested quoting Exodus 22:1: “If a man steals an ox … and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen.”
It worked. The jury awarded $10 million, including $4 million in punitive damages. Although the verdict was later overturned, the moment stuck with Kaplan as a lesson on how to connect with a jury.