A senior counsel with Migdal, Pollack, Rosenkrantz & Sherman in Manhattan, Robinson says his regular "book binges" take him far afield to England, Italy, and India, and back to the Boston-Cambridge area. He estimates his private library numbers at least 50,000 volumes, with concentrations in the English Civil War of the 17th century, early architecture, rare volumes dating back to the first century of printing, and early English law.
Last fall, the Herbert Robinson Anglo-American Rare Law Book Collection, an endowed gift from Robinson to the Law School, was dedicated in Langdell. Among its treasures is a valuable first edition Robinson donated in 1992, of Henricus de Bracton's De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliae Libri Quinque (London, 1569), a cornerstone of common law literature. Robinson's other gifts to the School include a three-volume set of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen's A History of the Criminal Law of England (London, 1883), a copy (believed to be unique) of Frederick Pollock's Archaism in Modern Law: Address to the Glasgow Juridical Society (Glasgow, 1892), a two-volume set in pristine condition of Felix Frankfurter's The Case for the Shorter Work Day (New York, 1916), books on white-collar crime, and funds for book purchases.
Robinson is a life fellow of the Pierpont Morgan Library, conservator of the New York Public Library, director of the General Society Library, chair of the Friends of City College Library, and a member of the American Printing History Association. Listening to the collector discuss his beloved books and libraries, it comes as a surprise to learn of his globe-trotting years pursuing swindlers and graft-takers.
In 1952, "long before white-collar crime was recognized as a field or factor in the law," recalls Robinson, "the general counsel of Sears Roebuck called me in to investigate possible bribery in its New York office." He was then a young lawyer in a Manhattan firm he joined as name partner after serving three years in the army in India. Robinson already had some experience with the retail industry: an antitrust seminar he took with the late HLS Professor Milton Katz '31 helped him get his first job working for a former assistant attorney general in Massachusetts, on a federal antitrust case involving alleged pricefixing by retailers.
Following the Sears cases, Robinson focused his practice on commercial bribery and embezzling cases. "Some involved petty conflicts of interest that violated company rules," he notes. "Other cases were more exciting, and had me tracking malefactors who had stolen enormous sums all over the United States, in many countries in the Far East, the island of Jersey, Italy, Canada, and many other places." Following the merger of his firm with another law firm, in 1990 Robinson joined Migdal, Pollack as senior counsel. How did Robinson build such a superb collection in the midst of a long and busy practice? "When you're obsessed," he says, "you find the time."