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Robert Caplan

Property lawyer's longevity can be attributed to his creativity

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Veteran attorney Robert Caplan has accomplished a lot in his 50-plus years practicing law, and he's not done yet.

He has a thriving real property law practice and is still managing member of the San Diego law firm Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek.

"He's very tenacious, very focused and extremely creative in terms of solving problems," said Brian Seltzer, the firm's chief operating officer.

"He brings is tremendous experience, both on the business side and the law side."

This year, Caplan has been helping represent a committee seeking to renovate Balboa Park's Plaza de Panama. The $45.3 million project to remove vehicle traffic from the center of the park through the construction of a bypass bridge received San Diego City Council approval in July.

The project, however, is facing a legal challenge from the Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), which alleges that the city didn't issue a proper environmental impact report. A hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 1, but Caplan is confident the project will proceed and be ready in time for the Plaza de Panama's centennial celebration in 2015.

"For us, it's really an honor (to be involved in Plaza de Panama project)," Caplan said. "Dr. (Irwin) Jacobs and the board members are really the guiding light, and we're assisting them as counsel. But from the standpoint of accomplishing something, we feel it's a wonderful change for the park."

In addition to handling his day-to-day practice, Caplan has been successfully navigating the firm through some difficult economic times.

The business and litigation services firm, which has a strong presence in real estate development, has not been adversely affected by the downturn.

"Through various aspects of representing business clients, we have kept quite busy, and it's been pleasant in that regard," Caplan said. "I would have thought the stoppage of development would have been more difficult for the firm than it has been.

"I'm happy with the growth of the firm over the years, and I'm happy to be associated with very talented attorneys."

Caplan also said the firm is hoping to bring in some younger attorneys to help continue the tradition.

Seltzer said Caplan's ability to be flexible helps him as an administrator as well as in his practice.

"He's creative, and he's able to deal with changes in a transaction," Seltzer said. "He's able to deal with a variety of circumstances and be flexible and not be so drawn into one position.

"He can modify his position to get a result. He's able to see problems in a three-dimensional way."

Caplan likes the personal relationships of the job.

"I've been an attorney for 50 years and, regardless of the individual matter, I like dealing with clients and the strategy and discussions," he said. "I've found it, for me, to be a wonderful career. I find it stimulating and enjoyable."

The number of litigation matters the firm has been handling has declined slightly recently along with a dropoff in the general business practice, Caplan said.

But the firm's estate planning, trust administration and tax groups are growing, enabling the firm to remain the same size.

"We are continually reshaping the firm as to make it more desirable for people who live here — the businesses and families — and to have the services available that they want," Caplan said.

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