Power 100 2020: Robert Harrington
By Alex Cason
Laying down the law
58 | partner, Robinson Bradshaw
With four siblings who earned degrees at elite institutions including Harvard, Columbia and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harrington never lacked motivation to excel. The Florence, S.C., native has kept up his end of the bargain, earning bachelor’s and law degrees at Duke University and becoming the chairman of the litigation department of Charlotte’s Robinson Bradshaw law firm.
Harrington easily could have spent his career in New Orleans, where he was part of a thriving 70-lawyer firm and enjoyed the Big Easy with his wife, Sharon, and their then-young son, Jourdan. But work-related connections with Robinson Bradshaw co-founder Russell Robinson II and former Managing Partner Robert Griffin prompted the family’s move to the Queen City in 1999. Since then, Charlotte’s business community has soared, while New Orleans has seen an exodus of employers.
Now, Harrington is a fixture at Robinson Bradshaw, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. It has grown from 105 lawyers to 145 during his tenure in Charlotte, becoming a midsized firm that Harrington says competes effectively with much larger out-of-state groups that have expanded in Charlote through acquisitions. “We’ve been more than fortunate in the type of work we’ve been able to draw,” he says.
As the firm’s litigation department chairman since 2015, Harrington has some administrative duties involving one of Robinson Bradshaw’s four main practice groups. But he emphasizes that most of his time is spent representing clients. “We are very non-hierarchical.”
His specialties include representing consumer-finance companies, which at times get entangled in legal scraps over hefty interest rates and fees and draw the ire of public-interest consumer groups. “Consumer finance is clearly a necessary part of the economy,” he says. “If you are going to buy a car, for example, you are going to go to a consumer lender. But I’ve had the good fortune to work with really good folks.”
In a well-publicized case in 2017, Harrington represented Chicago-based Sterling Partners, the private equity company owner of now-defunct Charlotte School of Law, in cases brought by former students who leveled charges of fraud, negligent misrepresentation and unfair trade practices. The investors were dismissed from several lawsuits.
Lawyers pride themselves on “representing clients who need representation,” he says. But he also notes the irony that he’s been a board member for more than 20 years and former co-chair at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that works to oppose discrimination and unfair practices that harm the poor and others lacking legal representation. He’s also a past board member of Legal Aid of North Carolina and says he’s an active supporter of mostly Democratic political candidates.
Harrington also has devoted many hours to civic activities in his adopted city. He’s a former chairman of the city’s Arts & Science Council and Mecklenburg County Bar and current chairman of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library board of trustees, where he’s now helping raise $70 million in private funds for a new $135 million public library. “I’m on the hook until we finish it,” he says with a laugh.
— David Mildenberg