A Century, Already
This year, the firm is celebrating an important milestone in its history: its centenary. In 1921, driven by their passion for law and their entrepreneurial spirit, Benjamin Robinson and Joseph Shapiro founded their firm in modest offices on Saint-Jacques Street. They believed in their lucky star and were confident that their efforts would be successful. Perhaps they were also betting on the possibility that their respective sons would follow in their footsteps. This is what happened when Jonathan J. Robinson and Barry H. Shapiro joined the team. Claude-Armand Sheppard, who would later become one of the country’s most respected litigators, followed them soon after, and the firm eventually became Robinson Sheppard Shapiro.
Over the past century, RSS did not remain a silent witness to the profound changes that happened in Quebec. The firm played a major part in the development of the events that shaped the province as we know it today. RSS’s lawyers proudly reflect their diversity and are happy to promote values such as mutual respect, compassion and empathy. Despite radical changes that have shaken the world, despite the differences between the past and our time, despite the contrast between the beginnings of RSS and its contemporary aspect, there are some constants in our history. RSS has always been a leading firm, made up of exceptional people driven by a common passion for the law and their concern to support their clients’ initiatives and play a useful role in society. The concern to “give back” to the community by joining social and philanthropic organizations has been a core value of RSS since its inception.
RSS has never lost its vitality. This continuity can be explained by the continuing work, sincere commitment, and dedication that have always been at the heart of our culture. And of course, the quality of the relationship with our clients remains an essential component of the firm’s identity.
Here are some dates and events that have marked the evolution of the firm.
The youngest of nine children in a family of Russian immigrants, Benjamin Robinson is born and raised in Portland, Maine.
Joseph Shapiro is born and raised in Montréal. He is the second in a family of eight children.
Benjamin Robinson graduates from Harvard University.
Joseph Shapiro and Benjamin Robinson graduate from McGill University’s Faculty of Law.
Benjamin Robinson and Joseph Shapiro found the law firm of Robinson & Shapiro and move to the Transportation Building at 132 St-Jacques Street West in Montréal. In just a few years, Robinson & Shapiro becomes one of the most prestigious small law firms in town. With a practice encompassing several areas of law, the firm quickly draws an enviable clientele.
Both Benjamin Robinson and Joseph Shapiro are very active in the Jewish community in Montréal and are heavily involved in the immigration to Canada of refugees from Europe before, during and after the Second World War. The two become successively president of the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society of Montréal.
Between 1938 and 1940, they were both appointed King’s Counsel, in recognition of their excellence in the practice of law.
Benjamin Robinson and Joseph Shapiro helped found the Lord Reading Law Society, an organization that is still active and flourishing today and whose purpose is to support and advance the interests and well-being of Jewish lawyers who, at the time, were victims of various forms of discrimination. Both will serve as President of this association — as several other members of the firm in later years.
Following the creation of the Lord Reading Law Society, Harry Batshaw was the first Jewish judge appointed to the Superior Court in 1949. That same year, Benjamin Robinson was the first Jew elected to the Board of the Bar of Montréal. He was followed by Joseph Shapiro, who was also elected to the Board of the Bar of Montréal.
Jonathan J. Robinson joins the firm’s growing practice as a business and litigation lawyer.
Claude-Armand Sheppard joins the firm. He quickly stands out as both a corporate lawyer and a litigator, both in civil and criminal cases.
Also in 1959, Benjamin Robinson was appointed a judge of the Superior Court.
The arrival of Claude-Armand Sheppard initiated a trend that led the firm to recruit Francophones and Anglophones of all origins. This new practice ensures that the composition of the firm now reflects Quebec society in all its diversity.
The name of the firm is changed to Robinson Sheppard Shapiro
In the early ’60s, after more than forty years of professional success and enjoying the respect of his colleagues as a lawyer and as a gentleman, Joseph Shapiro retires.
After 43 years in the Transportation Building, the firm moves to the Tour de la Bourse, Place Victoria, where it now occupies the top two floors.
Barry H. Shapiro joins the firm as a business and corporate lawyer. Following in his father’s footsteps, he was subsequently elected president of the Lord Reading Law Society. A few years later, Charles E. Flam, and Herbert Z. Pinchuk, now head of the business law department, joined the firm.
The firm is now nine lawyers strong. It specializes in business law and civil litigation.
Claude-Armand Sheppard pleaded many high-profile trials, including the defence of Dr. Henry Morgentaler, whose three jury acquittals eventually led to fundamental changes in the abortion law.
A pivotal year for RSS.
Michel Green joins us. Soon after, the newly-elected government of Quebec announces its intention to replace the liability regime for auto accidents by a State-operated, no-fault plan. Numerous lawyers and the insurance industry are stunned. Michel Green refuses to take this lying down and sets out to develop a team that will supply the complete array of litigation services to the insurance industry. From that point, the group experiences a steady growth.
Almost at the same time, Lynne Kassie joins RSS. The Divorce Act is barely a few years old, and the legal community feels a need for specialized lawyers capable of handling cases with complex economic and human stakes. The Family Law Group that she assembles quickly becomes one of the most important and respected teams in Quebec.
Following the computer revolution and in order to replace the old typewriters and carbon paper, the firm installs its first word processing system, ancestor of today’s computers.
With the growth of the firm, and the growing needs of our clients in tax law, this practice is added to the overall services of Robinson Sheppard Shapiro. It is now headed by Martin Lord.
With the merger of Goloff & Boucher, RSS adds the practice of labour and employment law to its skills. Shortly thereafter, RSS adds another area of practice, transport law, with the arrival of Louise Baillargeon and her team. Robinson Sheppard Shapiro is then 42 lawyers strong.
In order to expand its practice and offer new services to its clients, Lebel & Associés is joining the banking law group of Robinson Sheppard Shapiro. In addition, on the eve of the 21st century, Robinson Sheppard Shapiro adopts a new logo and the RSS brand.
RSS joins, as its Quebec representative, the International Lawyers Network (ILN). This network includes more than 5,000 lawyers in nearly 70 countries around the world. This affiliation allows RSS to serve its customers internationally.
Following its merger with Arcand, Duval, Doyon, a leading immigration law firm, RSS adds new services to meet the demand caused by the globalization of markets and the movement of human capital. In addition to its presence in Montréal, the practice group includes offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai through an affiliated firm.
In addition to the internal growth of each expertise, there is the arrival of a group of lawyers specializing in the practice of maritime law
The firm becomes a limited liability partnership: Robinson Sheppard Shapiro LLP.
The members of the firm set up the RSS Foundation, whose objective is to support local organizations that help the most deprived. Even today, the Foundation supports about thirty charities annually.
RSS opens an office in Saguenay, to meet the needs of its clientele in Eastern Quebec, particularly in the construction sector.
RSS settles in Saint-Jérôme, to get closer to its customers in the north shore of Montréal and the Laurentians. This office will remain in operation for four years.
After nearly four decades, Charles E. Flam retires as the firm’s managing partner and chief executive officer.
Andrew Penhale, who had been a partner for a few years, returns to RSS and is appointed Managing Partner.
Over the past few years, the firm has grown rapidly.
RSS is now around 90 lawyers strong. The Insurance Law Group is now a team of over 40 legal professionals. RSS is named Canada’s 2021 Insurance Law Firm of the Year by Best Lawyers magazine, which also gives top ratings to nine individual lawyers from the Group.
While in the 1950s, RSS had become one of the first firms to recognize the place of women in the practice of law, they now occupy 40% of the decision-making positions in the firm.
Nine former RSS partners have been appointed judges of the Superior Court.
RSS is now a bilingual, multicultural firm, whose culture promotes excellence in the practice of law, integrity, quality of life, stability and contribution to society, both in terms of of services than of philanthropy.