Alum Marla Butler ('97)
Focused on Firm and Family
As a law student, Marla Butler was sure she did not have the personality to be a firm lawyer. Butler – now the assistant managing partner and hiring partner in the New York City office of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi – readily admits she was wrong. The 1997 College of Law grad turned out to be a perfect fit for the first and only law firm with which she interviewed.
“At the beginning of my 2L year, Florida State had the first of what I think is now known as the Atlanta interviewing program. I didn’t think I had the kind of personality that would allow me to comfortably fit into a law firm environment. I had this perception of law firms as being very stuffy. But this Atlanta program happened and I just went for it. And I only interviewed with Robins Kaplan. For probably half of the interview we were talking about things like my motorcycle and it was a very different kind of discussion than I ever anticipated having with a couple of partners at a big firm,” said Butler, who became a partner with the firm eight years after she joined as an associate.
Butler spent her first 13 years in the firm’s Atlanta office, building a strong IP and patent litigation practice. Being a “gadget person” with an extreme interest in technology makes Butler well suited for her practice areas.
“What I started learning in my first couple of years of practice was how to be a litigator – I litigated all types of cases,” said Butler, whose high-profile clients include GE and Xerox. “Then, there was one partner in the Atlanta office who was doing patent litigation and he asked me to do some research and I was immediately hooked. What I learned was that, while I didn’t major in engineering or science, I have an aptitude for engineering concepts. That comes naturally to me.”
After that project, Butler persistently sought out additional patent litigation work and was able to fill her plate exclusively with cases in the area.
The Cleveland, Ohio native also spent her time in Atlanta climbing the firm’s leadership ranks. Butler always strives to make a difference in any organization of which she is a part. She has served on her firm’s diversity committee since its inception in 1999 and served as chair of the committee from 2008 until July of 2014.
“I also sat on the firm’s nine-member executive board from 2009 to 2012, which was an incredible experience. It’s where you see how the sausage is made and all the tough decisions that executive boards of firms make on many difficult issues.”
In 2010, her firm opened a New York office and Butler moved north to help build that office. Since then, she has added management and hiring roles to her plate. Her then-partner and now-wife, Lainie Butler, and the couple’s first child, who was 6 months old at the time, moved with Butler.
“I left Atlanta for many reasons, some of which are professional, but another part of it was we had decided we were not going to raise our son in a state where his parents’ marriage was not going to be legally recognized. We had started considering where else we might want to live and it coincided with the time that we were going to open up the New York office. When we moved in 2010 to the New York metro area, one of the reasons we chose Connecticut (over New Jersey and New York) is because at that time it was the only of the three states where we could be legally married.”
In addition to their oldest son Jackson, who turned 5 in November, the Butlers have twins – Joshua and Juliana – who will celebrate their first birthday in March. Lainie stays home with the children.
“She is incredible,” said Butler about her wife. “I could not do what she does. I work a lot, I travel a lot and I could not do what I do with the firm, for my clients, without the incredible support that she gives me and our family. She keeps it all together.”
As a child, Butler’s parents provided her and her two older brothers with strong values. Her father’s pride in her, especially regarding her professional success, has driven Butler throughout her life.
On two occasions, Butler recalls giving her father her business cards, once in a Father’s Day card and once at a family gathering. “In 2002, my dad passed away unexpectedly. I remember very vividly going through his wallet. In his wallet, he just had a couple credit cards and a $50 bill stashed in a place where he figured no one would find it. And he had a picture of my mom, a picture of me when I was about 5 years old, and those two business cards.”
Although her children are young, Butler already envisions them as adults: “In the long-term, my goal is to create a safe environment for our kids, where they grow up and feel like they can do whatever it is that is going to make them happy. To make them feel like there are no limits on what they can do while also making sure that they are kind, empathetic, caring people who understand how important it is to give back to the world.”
As printed in the fall 2014 issue of Florida State Law magazine.