Robert B. Zelms is managing partner of the Phoenix office of Manning & Kass, and leader of the Legal Malpractice Team. Mr. Zelms received his BA in political science from the University of Arizona in 1993, and his JD from Arizona State University College of Law in 1997.
Mr. Zelms practices in the areas of professional liability defense litigation, lawyers professional liability, miscellaneous professional liability, real estate E&O, design professional E&O, financial services E&O, directors & officers, insurance agent E&O, accounting malpractice, complex general liability, and trucking and transportation law. He is an author and editor of Manning & Kass’s Arizona Professional Liability, Arizona Real Estate, California/Arizona Legal Malpractice, and Arizona General Liability newsletters. He is also nationally board certified by the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys (ABPLA) as a specialist in Legal Malpractice.
Mr. Zelms has been named a 2017 - 2020 Arizona Super Lawyer, a distinction awarded to the top five percent of attorneys evaluated by their peers on twelve indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University where he teaches a practical skills course titled “The Litigation Experience.”
He has completed more than 30 jury trials in the State of Arizona. Mr. Zelms's high profile cases include:
- In February 2018, the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld Mr. Zelms' dismissal of a lawsuit filed by "America's Toughest Sheriff," Sheriff Joe Arpaio. As reported by the Associated Press, Sheriff Arpaio "lost his lawsuit that sought money from the owners of a downtown Phoenix office building for a broken shoulder he suffered three years ago when he tripped and fell outside the property." This high profile dismissal was covered by the USA Today, Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, among others. It should be noted that the appellate court victory occurred after Sheriff Arpaio was pardoned by President Trump.
- In November 2017, Mr. Zelms obtained a very favorable verdict in a severe trucking/bus accident trial where the injured Plaintiff required neck, shoulder, and lower back surgery resulting in nearly $400,000 in medical bills and related damages. Plaintiff was so injured that 4-years post-accident, he claimed he was still suffering significant physical and emotional after-effects, requiring additional medical treatment and surgery. Plaintiff, a military veteran of various wars including Iraq, also claimed the severe injuries forced him to retire from the Army Reserves. Due to the severity of the impact and facts of the accident, Mr. Zelms was forced to admit liability for the accident. Because Plaintiff’s damages were so high, he sought $1.2 Million from the jury. Mr. Zelms was able to skillfully attack the medical causation elements of the case, which were his only available defenses. As a result, the jury came back with a unanimous verdict for LESS than the medical bills and claimed damages amount, leaving many in the courtroom stunned.
- In March 2015 Rob Zelms secured a full defense verdict—in one of the very rare Arizona legal malpractice cases that proceeds to trial. The large and complex case involved an underlying series of corporate transactions related to the dissolution and liquidation of a company (in which the plaintiffs had an ownership interest). The plaintiffs alleged breach of fiduciary duty and professional negligence. They sought $1.5 million at trial, including punitive damages against Mr. Zelms’ law firm client and its principal attorney. In order to establish that the plaintiffs had failed to prove their claims, Mr. Zelms dissected an extremely complex underlying case, involving more than 15,000 documents and twenty potential witnesses.
- In August 2012, Mr. Zelms secured a stunning and unprecedented defense verdict in a $20,000,000 trial arising out of a sexual assault of a minor at an Arizona high school. The lawsuit was brought against a Fortune 1000 company and one of the largest school districts in the State of Arizona. Although the case was six years old by the time it proceeded to trial, Mr. Zelms was asked to assume the defense of the case just six weeks before trial. Plaintiff was represented by one of Arizona’s most prominent personal injury lawyers, whose previous significant trials resulted in jury verdicts of $11,000,000 and $45,500,000. Despite the overwhelming odds, limited preparation time, and closed discovery, Mr. Zelms successfully defended this very high exposure lawsuit and justified the clients’ bold decision to retain him as new counsel on the eve of this groundbreaking trial. The case remains one of the largest personal injury defense verdicts in Arizona trial history.
- Obtained a dismissal in one of the highest profile real estate E&O cases in recent Arizona history. The dismissal was upheld by the Arizona Supreme Court and is a published opinion. Mr. Zelms defended one of Arizona's largest commercial real estate development companies and brokerage in this professional negligence claim related to Arizona's stigmatized property statute. Lerner v. DMB Realty, LLC, et al., 231 Ariz. 297, 294 P.3d 135 (2014).
- Obtained a dismissal for a relocation company in a $7 million professional negligence claim arising out of municipal eminent domain action.
- Defended a legal malpractice action arising out of a $22 million claim related to formation of a charitable tax structure.
- Obtained a dismissal for one of the largest real estate appraisal groups in the Western U.S. in a multi-million dollar lawsuit brought by a large national lending institution.
- Successfully defended a concrete company in a $14 million construction defect claim arising out of a large master planned subdivision in Arizona.
Mr. Zelms is admitted to the State Bar of Arizona and the U.S. District Court, District of Arizona. He is also a member of the American Bar Association, Defense Research Institute, and LawForKids.org, which provides an online legal Q&A forum for Arizona's school children. Mr. Zelms is a former chair of the Southwest Chapter of PLUS (Professional Liability Underwriting Society).
Mr. Zelms is frequently retained by insurance carriers and brokers to conduct Risk Management Audits and Peer Review Assessments of attorneys and law firms related to E&O insurance renewals. Additionally, Mr. Zelms was an Instructor for the Arizona Association of REALTORS® rCRMS Risk Management Certification Program. Mr. Zelms is also a frequent lecturer on risk management/claims issues (click here to see Rob in a live Q&A session) and has conducted seminars for numerous insurance carriers and companies nationwide.
Select National and International Speaking Engagements
- PLUS 2013 International Conference: “Lawyers Professional Liability Forecast: Dark & Stormy or Blue Skies Ahead?”
- DRI 2013 Professional Liability Conference: “Ethics: Navigating Through Conflicts in the Tripartite Relationship”
- PLUS 2015 International Conference: “The Rising Tide of 3rd Party Claims in the LPL Marketplace”
- Robert B. Zelms Quoted in News Article on the Forced Closure of Arizona Gyms
- Lenkov and Zelms to Present to Mutual Insurers on Traumatic Brain Injury
- Robert B. Zelms Certified by ABPLA as Legal Malpractice Specialist
- Three Manning & Kass Attorneys Selected for 2018 Southwest Super Lawyers List
- Eighteen Manning & Kass Attorneys Named 2017 Super Lawyers and Super Lawyers Rising Stars
- MSJ Granted in High Profile Arizona Case Covered by AP Wire
- Jeffrey M. Lenkov Extreme Sports Profile Feature in Daily Journal
- Rob Zelms Prevails in Arizona Legal Malpractice Trial
- Scottsdale Wins Another Legal Malpractice Case
- Manning & Kass Celebrates Growth, Stability in 2015