5 minutes with... Rodgin Cohen
Starting out, what did you expect from a career in the law?
To be candid, I really did not know. It was just a lot of white space. But generally, I hoped to work on matters which made a difference and were intellectually challenging.
What do you consider to have been your big break?
It was definitely starting with Sullivan & Cromwell. I had worked as a lawyer with the army and gotten to know more about what New York law was like than some of my classmates, but there was still a lot of uncertainty about my future career path until I joined Sullivan & Cromwell.
What differences do you see in today’s legal market compared to when you started?
First, it is clearly a much more competitive market. Second, when I started there were either no or small in-house legal departments. Today there are very large and capable in-house teams. That is a positive: it helps you focus on the important issues for your client.
What achievement are you most proud of?
If I had to take one thing, it would be working to release the hostages from the embassy in Iran in 1981. A second thing – and I can't be specific here – is the time I worked with a nonprofit where an individual had been done a real injustice; it had been a political hanging really. I spent my time making people understand that had not been appropriate. Helping people is really very rewarding.
What do you consider your greatest failure or regret?
It was not succeeding in keeping Lehman out of bankruptcy. That was a great disappointment.
“I would radically revise our immigration laws to be more permissive and accepting, because immigration is what created this country and we should value it.”
What law would you want to change, abolish or create?
In the banking area the one law I would abolish is the Durbin Amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act. It fixes prices for debit card interchange fees. I understand it was well intentioned; I think it is anathema in a free economy to regulate something like that. At a very basic level I would radically revise our immigration laws to be more permissive and accepting, because immigration is what created this country and we should value it.
Who is your legal hero?
When I started there were four great names in banking law. It is hard to say one is greater than the other, so I will name them all. Richard Powell here at Sullivan & Cromwell, Richard Simmons at Cravath, Bruce Nichols at Davis Polk, Roy Haberkern at Milbank.
What career would you have in your second life?
That is easy. I would have been a veterinarian, because I love animals.
How would you like to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as a lawyer who cared for his clients.