Robert Hillman was a towering figure in the legal profession, as an attorney and as a visionary who built one of the nation’s top law firms. A brilliant and creative thinker, Bob’s ability to parse the most complicated legal issues was as renowned as his skill at dismantling an opponent’s argument with a surgeon’s precision. Thomas Melsheimer, a principal at Fish who tried many cases with Bob noted: “Bob’s intellectual heft was legendary. He could dissect a weak argument with the same ease as he constructed a compelling one. If an oral argument or brief could pass the Hillman test, it could survive anything a judge could throw at you.”
Bob grew up in Fall River, the son of Jewish Latvian immigrant parents. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fulfilling his grandfather’s dream of having a family member attend the prestigious university. At MIT, Bob planned to become a chemist, only to discover he really didn’t like chemistry at all. After joining the intercollegiate debate team, he found the passion for intellectual sparring that would drive his stellar legal career. Bob immediately switched his major to economics and physics, with plans to become a lawyer.
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1962, Bob served in the Army Reserve before joining Fish, Richardson and Neave, which was then a small Boston law firm with 11 attorneys. Over the course of his career, Bob became the architect of Fish & Richardson’s transformation into a premier national intellectual property and litigation firm with a global practice. Bob drove the expansion of the firm that ultimately grew to 11 new offices in the U.S. and Europe, recruiting the best and the brightest with his ability to inspire teamwork and to motivate others with his vision for greatness. David Feigenbaum, a principal at Fish and Bob’s friend for more than 30 years, said: “Bob was a leader in the true sense of that hackneyed word: a person who could identify a vision, persuade skeptics around him to the high value of his dream, and garner every ounce of their energy to help him fulfill it. What was even more remarkable was his insistence that this vision be built, not on wishful thinking, but on unflaggingly objective facts. Always it was the cold hard facts unvarnished by fear, personal prejudice, or Pollyannaish enthusiasm that guided his thinking.”
As Bob built a successful career as a highly sought-after patent attorney and firm leader, his path crossed with a professional recruiter with her own stellar reputation: Gail Kaplan, who eventually became Bob’s wife and soul mate. She cared for him around the clock for more than 14 months at the end of his life, after Bob suffered a traumatic brain injury as the result of a fall. Gail’s fierce commitment to Bob during his difficult last year spoke of their deep and enduring love.
Bob was an exceptionally talented trial lawyer who won cases involving complex technology in federal courts across the United States. The world’s greatest inventors were drawn to working with Bob, because he too was one of the world’s greatest innovators. Frank Scherkenbach, a Fish Principal and close friend, recalled: “Bob’s combination of sheer intellect, big-picture thinking, and personal warmth was unique. I will remember him as I first knew him: offering bold ideas, articulating compelling arguments with all angles considered, and always interested to share a story and a smile over a drink with good friends.”
Another of Bob’s gifts was playing piano. He would sit down and improvise the most beautiful music imaginable. He always said if not for his passion for patent law, he would have loved to be a pianist.
He was a gardener whose playground was the three acres at his and Gail’s home. Digging in the earth and creating beauty with the fruit trees, vegetables, and multiple flower beds brought peace into his life.
In addition to his wife Gail, Bob leaves two sons, Matthew and his wife Susie of Seattle and Timothy Murley of Brookline, a daughter Elizabeth of Framingham, two grandchildren, Jonah and Audrey and a brother Kenneth and his wife Jackie of New Jersey and Scottsdale, AZ, and their three daughters, Beth, Marcy and Sheryl.
Bob and Gail always talked about how their love would last until the end of time. Their special bond was apparent to all who knew them.
“Know, therefore, that from the greater silence I shall return…Forget not that I shall come back to you…A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me.”
The Boston Globe: Robert Hillman, 78; key player in global expansion of local law firm