Leonard Rivkin, an excellent hero of the World War II Army and founder of Long Island's largest and most influential law firm, died Friday at his Garden City home after a battle with kidney failure. He was 95 years old.
The company, which later became Rivkin Radler LLP, was founded in 1950 in a small office space on Merrick Road in Freeport for $ 25 a month. Since then, the company has grown to five offices, including its Uniondale headquarters, and employs 200 lawyers.
Rivkin's customers included Fortune 500 companies and insurance companies involved in multi-million dollar complex litigation. He defended the Dow Chemical Company in Agent Orange's class action lawsuit against Vietnam veterans who said the defoliants sprayed during the war severely damaged them and caused birth defects in their children. And he defended the Fireman & # 39; s Fund Insurance Company when the Franklin National Bank collapsed in 1974, then the largest bankruptcy in American history.
"He was a wild litigator with an incredible desire to succeed for his clients," said his son John Rivkin, 64, of Westhampton Beach, a retired partner of the company. "He was also an innovator. He was never afraid to take risks or suffer a loss. And he was incredibly determined and never afraid to make a mistake."
Rivkin grew up in Far Rockaway, the eldest of two children of Hyman Rivkin, Long Island's first radiologist. and Nettie Rivkin, a housewife. The couple later had a daughter, Judy Feldman, who died earlier this year.
Leonard Rivkin attended the University of Virginia, but joined the US Army after one semester. As an 18-year-old, he helped capture 80 German soldiers during the Ardennes offensive and earned him a silver star and two purple hearts.
Rivkin returned to the University of Virginia and graduated in three years.
In 1950 Rivkin married Lenore Friedman and the couple had two children, John Rivkin and Janet Zuckerman, 67, a clinical psychologist from Mamaroneck. They settled in Hewlett. Lenore Friedman died in 1985 and later married Betty Friedman, who died in 2013.
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Rivkin's law firm started out modestly and his few clients were relatives, friends and neighbors.
"I was a lawyer in the neighborhood," Rivkin told Newsday in 2000. "That was me at the beginning. That was the only way I could build a practice."
William Savino was one of the young lawyers hired by the firm in 1978. Savino, who served as the managing partner for 14 years, reminded Rivkin of an accomplished job that emphasized accountability. As soon as a lawyer earned Rivkin's trust, he let her lead, he said.
"His approach was to take the initiative, be it in legal strategy or in customer relationships," said Savino. "He would say that the opportunity is used 99% and given 1%. Len assumed that life is what you make of it. He really did not tolerate excuses, but rewarded those who made life possible to have."
In his treatise, "May the Court like it," Rivkin discussed his philosophy: "Don't sit on your hands and wait for something to happen. Make it happen. Don't respond to your opponents; let him react to you. "
The Dow Chemical case was the largest of the firm, with a team of 12 lawyers and 22 paralegals working full time on the class action lawsuit. The case became so hot that Rivkin and his defense team wore bulletproof vests in court and once found a bullet hole in the window of his office. The company set up a bombproof steel door in the office's filing room, while all incoming mail was directed through an X-ray machine.
Rivkin pulled numerous lights into the company's imprint, including former US Senator Birch Bayh from Indiana; Ex-Senator John Dunne and prominent litigation attorney Warren Radler, who was named a partner in 1981 and headed the new Chicago office.
Over the years, the company added offices in Los Angeles and Santa Rosa, California. Washington, D.C., New Jersey, White Plains, Manhattan and Massachusetts. Today, the firm, which is considered the 209th largest law firm in the country, has five offices, including on Long Island, Manhattan, Hackensack, New Jersey, Poughkeepsie and Albany.
Rivkin retired in 1989. He continued to visit the company weekly, but focused mainly on his family and his love of boating and fishing.
He is survived by his two children, a daughter-in-law, Nancy Rivkin; a son-in-law, Joseph Zuckerman; and five grandchildren.
The family will have a private funeral service and Shiva will sit.
Robert Brodsky is a news reporter who has been with Newsday since 2011. He is a graduate of Queens College and American University.