A transcript of this podcast is easily available at lovethylawyer.com .
Now retired, Kurt Robinson earned his way through outstanding schools with stunning academic success. Originally sought after because of his perceived athletic prowess, he quickly proved that his real strength lay in intellectual ability. He and Joe Montana became friends at Notre Dame University, and when they both landed in Santa Clara, Kurt for law school, and Joe playing ball with a local team, they both realized that the only people they really knew were each other. Among other stories, Kurt tells how he practiced law, became a sports agent, and how he is now developing a television program for Netflix.
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Attorney at Law
Kurt Robinson - Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of the practice law. I'm Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I'm a lawyer. Nobody's perfect. He's a retired attorney. He has been a lawyer. He has sold legal cannabis. He has a close relationship with the San Francisco 49ers and the now San Francisco Warriors.
He runs a documentary film company. He's had a very interesting and storied career. Kurt Robinson, Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Kurt Robinson: Well, Louis, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate you asking me.
Louis Goodman: I've always enjoyed talking to you.
Kurt Robinson: Same here.
Louis Goodman: And whether that's [00:01:00] been in a judicial chambers or at a restaurant in Fremont, it's always been, always been fun.
Kurt Robinson: Yeah, you left out my book. I think you would be a person who read it.
Louis Goodman: Reading your book? Yeah, we're gonna definitely going to get to that.
Louis Goodman: So right now, what are you doing?
Kurt Robinson: Well right now, I'm really involved in making a documentary. It's called, Ready To Be Seen. It's based on the history of protest in Oakland. We've been shooting it for about five weeks.
We’ve got about six weeks left.
Louis Goodman: How did you get interested in doing documentary film, having been a lawyer.
Kurt Robinson: I think that. Everybody is going to have to reinvent themselves in the new COVID world or post COVID world. I don't think post COVID is appropriate because we're right in the middle of the pandemic. So I'm at a point in my life where I could choose [00:02:00] what I really want to do.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Kurt Robinson: Born in Detroit, Michigan, but raised primarily in St. Louis, Missouri.
Louis Goodman: Is that where you went to high school in St. Louis?
Kurt Robinson: Yup, high school in St. Louis. Chaminade College Prep for young men. I went on a basketball scholarship to believe it or not. It was the biggest mistake they ever made.
Two of our students are playing in the NBA right now. Jason Tatum, for the Boston Celtics and Bradley Bill from Washington Wizards, both recruited the same way I was. Catholic schools used to go to the hood and they find players and Chaminade has been doing it for 40 years. They finally got some good ones.
Louis Goodman: So you graduated from Chaminade and you went to college?
Kurt Robinson: Yeah. I went to University of Notre Dame. A buddy of mine kind of recruited me there and I had a scholarship opportunity to go there. [00:03:00] Chaminade was really one of the best high schools in the St. Louis area. So I was very lucky to get a great school education. No, it was a little bit of a rare commodity coming out of high school.
I had in those days, an opportunity pretty much to going row.
Louis Goodman: How was the experience at Notre Dame?
Kurt Robinson: No, what you're doing was tough because, you know, coming from the hood and then going to Notre Dame, it was a very foreign environment to me. I was lucky because I had the Chaminade experience. But at Chaminade we came home at night. We didn't board there. So we came back to our neighborhoods every night. At Notre Dame, and that became your neighborhood. It was a tough, curious, because it was a very small pocket of minority students at the time when there were no women, it was all boys school. So it was challenging.
It became, I started to say integrated, but it actually became co-head of the next [00:04:00] year, which made it a little different and a little bit of a more broad-based school. But overall, I would have to rate the experience as great, because I got a lot of opportunities, you know, each step of the way in my life.
First, I got the lucky break. Getting chosen out of the school yard, you go to Chaminade. And then I got the lucky break getting shows to go to Notre Dame, where I ran into people who really helped me to go work. I ended up working on Capitol Hill and the Congressman's office as a result of a program that I was in at Notre Dame.
So overall it was a great experience for me.
Louis Goodman: What was the experience working on Capitol Hill like?
Kurt Robinson: it was a bit disillusioning because at the time that I went to work on Capitol Hill, I was interested in politics and doing something to help the community. And I was very disenchanted when I actually saw how Capitol Hill works.
It was very dysfunctional and my main job was just [00:05:00] going to parties, representing the Congressman who never really showed up for anything. So it was, I would say pretty disillusioned and experience. It wasn't what I expected. It was at a time before CNN.
Louis Goodman: When did you first start thinking about going to law school?
Kurt Robinson: Well, I started thinking about going to law school in the third grade when I was appointed to be a lawyer in a case. Well, we were playing like role playing. They said I was a lawyer because I talked a lot and I argued a lot. So they figured lawyer. And so after third grade I was, I knew I was going to be a lawyer.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to law school?
Kurt Robinson: I went to Santa Clara.
Louis Goodman: Did you go to Santa Clara right after Notre Dame?
Kurt Robinson: I did, again, was another break that was based on disappointment. I was waitlisted at Berkeley and it was the same year of Bakke versus board of Regents [00:06:00] Council, the special admissions program. So it just left me on the wait list.
I was hoping that I was going to get into Berkeley, but when I came to California, I sure liked Santa Clara more in Berkeley, I'd never seen palm trees or anything like that in Santa Clara, it looked like a country club. So in Berkeley was really more like the cities I was accustomed to. So Santa Clara was actually refreshing.
I'd never seen nothing like Santa Clara when I went there, but I'd done.
Louis Goodman: Did the Santa Clara law school experience turn out to be heavenly?
Kurt Robinson: Well, I think there's probably more, I thought it wasn't as much of a challenge as I expected really. Because I just, you know, expected in those days go listen you're old enough to remember all this stuff.
Most people won't be. They had the strong Socratic method, traditional law schools. And there was a movie out called The Paper [00:07:00] Chase. I don't know if you remember that movie. And I expected it to be like that and it wasn't near as competitive or hard. So I actually thought last year was somewhat of a breeze.
I just enjoy living in California and walking around. I don't think I left Santa Clara the first two years I was here. Had never seen anything like that. I really thought I was in heaven. I had a beautiful apartment surrounded by beautiful plants and I just never lived a place like that. I don't think I even went to San Jose.
That's how we like that. So it took me a while to venture out in the Bay area.
Louis Goodman: What was your first legal job?
Kurt Robinson: I was in private practice from day one.
Louis Goodman: On your own?
Kurt Robinson: As soon as I passed the bar, I hung up my shingle. That's what people tell to do in those days. There weren't the opportunities like my daughter had and some people have [00:08:00] for people in those days.
So I hung up my shingle cause I wasn't going to be broke if I had a ticket. So I just started the day after the day after I got sworn in.
Louis Goodman: What sort of work did you do?
Kurt Robinson: I was able to get cases through conflicts in Santa Clara County where I started and I thought it was great because my experience practicing all over California was the Santa Clara County was really one of the most difficult counties for criminal defense.
So I cut my teeth. Then I felt like that was a good place to cut your teeth because I actually found every other County, I went to, to be more lenient in Santa Clara County. So the rest of the time, our practice, when I got out of Santa Clara County, I was just impressed with how easy I thought the [00:09:00] prosecutors were in comparison to Santa Clara County and I started doing Juvie.
So all my original cases were Juvie. I got to do a lot of trials and do one out without juries. Of course. So I just started off doing juvenile trials. I'd say the first year.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that the legal system dispenses justice, do you think it's fair?
Kurt Robinson: I don't think, well, I don't think anything is necessarily fair in the world.
I don't think the world is fair as a general principle. I don't think the legal system is fair. I think the legal system is like everything else. I mean, I think there, there are people who are share and there are people who are unfair or situations that are unfair. Generally speaking, I've found it to be better in California and what I've seen on the East Coast and in St. Louis in terms of cheer to me not to be as [00:10:00] political or corrupt. Oh, like, you know, in some of States you can just buy justice. I didn't have that experience here where I thought there was a lot of bribery or anything like that, going on.
We're a St. Louis or Chicago, some of those places in those days. And I'm talking about the late, you know, early eighties here, 81, 82, it was kind of different in some other communities in here.
Louis Goodman: Well, besides being a lawyer, you've had interesting experiences in the sports world. I'm wondering if you could share a little bit of that with us.
Kurt Robinson: For every few years, I got sick of being a lawyer. I mean, I really wanting to do some other things. And so the first sideline career I had was representing athletes. Started when I went to University of Notre Dame and I was a tutor in the academic support program. During the time I was at Notre Dame, we won two national [00:11:00] championships.
We had really great players and one of those players was Joe Montana, who was a part of the academic support program I worked in. And I thought in those days, Notre Dame only had 5,000 students. And I still don't think there were diamonds, those tremendous stars, who I don't, I have no idea, but it wasn't like Ohio State or any of those schools where you had a hundred thousand kids.
So I knew Joe Montana quite well. Um, well actually I hit a wall, the 49ers trained at the University of Santa Clara. So when he got here, he called me and I still joke with my wife who said to me when he called, what kind of name is Joe Montana? Is that a real name? So actually the only person I knew and the only person he knew was me.
So he invited me actually out to the 49er training camp. Took me to meet all the [00:12:00] players. I got to be really good friends with a ---- and Eric Wright, who I had to take a break from the podcast answers call. He was from East St. Louis. So we hit it off. He ended up wanting me to be his agent. So he actually was the first guy represented or he asked me to do it.
And then I was actually just, those guys were all my contemporaries age wise. So because Joe was on guard, I knew, and Eric, I knew my first group of friends. In the Bay where a 49ers, Eric was really close with Ronnie Lott and Charles Haley and Keena Turner. In 1985, we started one of the earliest Santa Clara nonprofits called the Champs Foundation, which we have programs to help underprivileged youth.
And we had a great program where we [00:13:00] actually went out with the sounds that to lease department. And delivered turkeys door to door at Thanksgiving. And this was odd because we would actually go into the houses and, you know, Joe Montana's show up at your door, with a turkey, Charles Harris, they sit down and talk, sit down and have hot chocolate in people's houses. You know, stuff you could not do today. But it was great. It was a great experience for me, because I got on the ground level and then I was lucky enough to sign a guy. Then Charles Haley, who at the time was a defensive player of the year, he became a little bit disruptive, got traded to the Dallas Cowboys.
And then I ended up in Dallas with working with Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, and lot of those guys. So just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Louis Goodman: What's your take on dealing with the NFL?
Kurt Robinson: I enjoyed it. I mean, it was the best job, brilliant. The history of mankind, because [00:14:00] it's really kind of unfair to the players at the agent.
You just paid a percentage of their salary, negotiate the contract in one year and just pay from five. I thought that was so unfair. I exposed it to the players, which is really kind of how I got in the door. I charged players, all of the rates, like any other attorney would charge. I never charged players percentages of their contracts until maybe 10 or 11 years later when I decided to do that.
But in general, I broke in by offering players hourly rates and exposing the hypocrisy that a lot of agents were getting paid on a five-year deal for five years when they only took a few minutes to do it. A lot of players at the time didn't even know that the NFL contract is and a lot of people don't know this, but the NFL contract is a standard form contract.
The only thing that's negotiated is the base. The bonus, the [00:15:00] incentives, the guarantees kind of conditions that we put in contracts nowadays, other than that, every player in the NFL signs, the same contract, which is selected. So, probably as easy a job as you can have as good a job as you can have at the time, because our agent was getting anywhere from 4 to 5%.
For maybe two or three days of work and you still get paid for the life of the contract. So being an NFL agent can be extremely lucrative at the cost to players.
Louis Goodman: We had some dealings with the NBA as well?
Kurt Robinson: Most publicized thing I deal with the NBA was representing Sprewell and also in the whole, I don't know, this is a long time ago.
And PJ [00:16:00] Carlesimo was a coach. My client was accused of children to coach in practice. So that was, that was probably the most interesting NBA experience I had was representing the free world during your time. And he was choking the coach. And basically what happened was Carlos Emma was really good and --------- a hard time.
And Moseley was a great friend of Sprees, freedom check into it and went bad on led to the shyness choking incident. So we dealt with that and that actually became national news. Oh, I learned a lot about doing what's immediately at the time I was reticent to deal with the media. So I actually hired Johnny cause he was coming off the OJ trial.
I hired Johnny for $5,000 to be my call representative. And of course, once you bring in Johnny, it really became a big media [00:17:00] circus. And I was actually glad because I learned a lot from how Johnny dealt with the media. And I was actually glad I don't have to have all that because he was, it was really when you deal with a story like that actually had another story like that.
Louis Goodman: Can you be specific about something that you learned about dealing with the media from Johnny Cochran?
Kurt Robinson: Well, when you deal with an incident like that, if you're a new one, you've never seen anything like that. It's overwhelming. How everybody in America has your phone number immediately.
How media trucks are outside your house. It was for me, overwhelming. I did not feel like I had the expertise to deal with it. And Johnny loved it. So what I learned from him was because calm, you [00:18:00] know, right. Well, when I first came around the corner with Johnny, the media pushed me out of the way and I was lead counsel in the case.
Cause they didn't know who I was all in with Johnny. So what I loved about that was I kind of got to learn from him. I have a very interesting story about that. I've never seen anybody do this before, since then, you know, at the time I was, I was just happy to be working with Johnny and we were leaving the Sprewell press conference and he was late for a slideshow LA and he asked me to call Southwest Airlines and ask them to hold up the plane for him.
Oh, I'm like really? Oh yeah. Yeah. I do it all the time. So I call Southwest Airlines. We actually got through to the pilot and the pilot, let the passengers take a vote, whether they would delay the plane for Johnny Cochran and they voted unanimously. [00:19:00] No, but he had the courage to do that. I mean like, you know, who calls the airline and say, hold the plane for me.
But I learned a lot from him in terms of just confidence and calmness.
Louis Goodman: You wrote a book called On The One what's that book about and how did you come to write it? And I've read it.
Louis Goodman: So how did you come to write that book?
Kurt Robinson: Actually, I had a very blessed career. I had a client, a former client who I represented, that actually didn't make it up in that field, but became a tremendously successful real estate investor.
Who basically came back to me and said, Kurt always wanted to work with you. I want you to write a book on, you know, kind of what you went through and being an agent. I said, well, I'm not willing to do that because I'm not willing to [00:20:00] out my clients like that. But I did agree to write a novel that was, I'll say for the purposes of the podcast and loosely based on my experiences, although I don't know, loosely based on it or not. So that book really came out of a book that I was asked to write in, basically got an advance to write and I wrote it or as my first novel was on the one, I actually have a contract for a second one and I never really got around to, but again, it was a more based on my experiences. Once I went to Dallas, representing Dallas Cowboys was a completely different experience representing the 49ers was at the time I found out. So different.
Louis Goodman: What was the difference?
Kurt Robinson: Things that are different. Number one, I think even though the 49ers were a big deal in [00:21:00] the Bay area. There's so much to do in the Bay area that everybody wasn't afford uniter, not in Dallas, everybody was accountable. And the profile of the Dallas Cowboys, even though at the time they really couldn't spell Superbowl. And Jerry Jones says they couldn't spell Superbowl. So they got Charles Haley. They were still a much more high- profile team.
They would call America's team. And in Dallas the Cowboys were we revered far more than the 49ers here in the Bay area.
Louis Goodman: So did you live in Dallas at the time?
Kurt Robinson: I didn't, but I spent a lot of time there with Charles Haley.
Louis Goodman: Tell me a little bit about this cannabis business.
Kurt Robinson: Well, I think I was having issues in terms of the law and I was really over it, to be honest with you, I was looking for a way out, the cannabis started legal cannabis.
I think three [00:22:00] years ago, I felt that it was going to be success. So I started really specializing my practice in obtaining licenses for cannabis companies. So I did that for a few years.,
Louis Goodman: So what’s your family life been like?
Kurt Robinson: It's been great. Two daughters, very proud of both. My daughters are tremendously successful.
My youngest daughter is currently in Germany with her husband. Who's in the military. My oldest daughter actually we're proud of was the youngest partner in the history of Lace and Lockton. She made partner. I think that 32 or 33, she is hiring partner there and now she represents Beyonce and Miramax.
Shelly was named the top 30 Hollywood power brokers in the country in a recent article in Hollywood Reporter. So [00:23:00] she took my law career and devastated and just a few years. And we're super competitive. She was a big basketball star at Harvard. She just generally destroyed her father's career. So now I'm trying to get an Oscar.
That's my joke with her. I'm gonna get an Oscar because she hasn't done that. But the first case was the Michael Jackson wrongful death. So, I mean, she just walked into the legal world. She's been killing it again. So I'm very proud of that. My other one I'm equally proud of because she's been giving me grandsons.
I never could get boys. I had these two girls, but the last five years, I've got three grandsons.
Louis Goodman: What sort of recreational pursuits do you have? Anything that you like doing besides working all the time?
Kurt Robinson: Actually, I'm not a guy who works all the time. I really love working out. I mean, I see you all the time.
You were kind of a fitness and through this, I think I am too. I used to love going to the gym, but now yeah,
Louis Goodman: I used to like going to the [00:24:00] gym too.
Kurt Robinson: Well, I've got everything here now. You know, I got a trampoline, I got a boxing bag. I got a dip bar. I've got weights, so I've adjusted, but I love working out. I love staying fit.
I'm proud to be back at my college weight over 40 years after I left. So that's the main thing I really, I know we're not on the COVID. So my view of this COVID. Since there is no organized governmental response to that. We have to have individual responses and I feel like one of the best thing you can do to fight COVID, to stay as healthy as possible.
I really spent a lot of time just trying to be healthy.
Louis Goodman: You came into some real money, you know, like a couple of billion dollars came your way. What, if anything, would you do different in your life?
Kurt Robinson: That's a good question. I think that for a couple of billion dollars came my way. I think, I don't think anybody [00:25:00] needs a couple billion dollars.
So I think I'd be like, so based off this life, like almost all over the way, I mean, my wife just walked in and looked at me, so I'd have to keep about half being for her. The rest I'd probably give away. I think at this stage, the material doesn’t really matter to me as much as, you know. Louis, the older you get, the more you focus on who you love and who loves you.
Right. It's not right. You can go hang out in Tahoe and live the life, you know, but you know, I think though that you came on after you accumulate enough material things that you really. I think appreciate the bigger things in life at this point. So I think there's just so much going on in the world that she could address with that.
That would probably be my first card.
Louis Goodman: Kurt Robinson. It's been a real pleasure talking to you. I found out a number of things that I never knew about you and It's really been an honor to have [00:26:00] your Love Thy Lawyer.
Kurt Robinson: Well, thank you, Louis. It's been an honor to talk to you. I think I'm much more than it should to be here.
I just appreciate you asking me, and it's always a pleasure to talk to you whether in person or at the country's way or on your podcast. So I really appreciate it.
Louis Goodman: That's it for today's episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests group contributed there are time and wisdom and make the show possible.
Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.
Kurt Robinson: I think it's in the best interest of the lawyer, but rarely in the best interest of the client.