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August 31, 2018 Did You Know?

“When I Was a New Lawyer”: Roy Cohen

TortSource Interview with Incoming TIPS Chair Roy Cohen
Roy Cohen then and now.

Roy Cohen then and now.

TS: What inspired you to become a lawyer? And what did you do prior to becoming a lawyer?

Cohen: In college, I was looking for a path that would allow me to apply a passion for history, science, and technology, an innate curiosity about people and how things work, some inherent problem-solving skills, a love of words, and the need to serve in some counseling capacity. And so, it came to be that a career in the law seemed at the time to be a logical career path. More than four decades later, I can say it was a pretty darn good decision for a 20-year-old at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

TS: How did you become involved with the ABA and TIPS?

Cohen: During law school, one of my buddies was the rising chair of the ABA’s Law Student Division. He asked if I would serve as the Law Student Division representative on the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. It was there that I got my first taste for bar association life. I liked the experience and the other Council members, who were legal lights like Bob McKay, Bob Kutak, and Sandy D’Alemberte. During my earlier years, I was active in the New Jersey State Bar Association and, in fact, founded its Product Liability and Toxic Tort Committee in 1986. Although I joined the ABA in 1983, it was not until 1988 that I was looking for a more national platform. Given my law school experience, the ABA—and more specifically, TIPS—seemed to offer the best home with a number of relevant opportunities. I called a lawyer in New Jersey who was serving as the chair of TIPS’s Self Insurers and Risk Managers Committee and asked how to get involved. He put me to work with a vice-chair appointment, and so began my path in TIPS that led to today.

TS: What is the benefit of a new lawyer becoming active with TIPS?

Cohen: TIPS offers new and young lawyers many opportunities, far more than any other organization I have been involved with over the years. The greatest benefit the Section offers to younger lawyers is its culture, one that offers an open and welcoming environment and provides every chance for development as a lawyer as well as a leader in the organization and beyond. Career enhancement, business development, resumé-building and credentialing, mentoring, leadership, education, fellowship, camaraderie, travel, and fun are all an integral part of this culture.

TS: What early career practices led to your success?

Cohen: Three things come to mind. First, my approach to important decisions has always been methodical (some describe it differently), but I have always thought that almost any problem can be solved or at least managed effectively by weighing the relevant options and reaching a considered conclusion. And, once the decision is made, never look back. Second, I am inherently curious and so have always asked a lot of questions—a trait that has served me well in virtually all aspects of being a lawyer. Third, I knew litigation, and specifically trial work, was my calling as a lawyer, so I volunteered to take on any case that the partners in my firm wanted to jettison. Because many of them were crappy cases, I got to try most of them in my early years. The first such case was representing the plaintiff in a rear-end car accident where the claim was that he could no longer play the classical harmonica after he retired. The jury liked him, and I guess they also liked me, because we got a big verdict. The partners were so impressed with the result that the cases kept coming. Be careful what you wish for—but, fortunately, the cases kept getting better and bigger for me. Lastly, as a result of various experiences—some controlled and some not—I have tried a significant number of cases for both plaintiffs and defendants. Both make you a better a trial lawyer.

TS: What is your advice for a new lawyer seeking to acquire, retain, and nurture client relationships?

Cohen: Although lawyer-client relationships can be complicated, the formula for success is pretty simple. Core competence and credentialing is the first step: learn your craft and your business, and then learn your client’s business, as well as what drives them. Know their expectations, and then exceed them and key in on their needs as well. They want predictability (a/k/a no surprises) and expect loyalty to them and their company. Clients also need to be confident in your advice and value fairness in the relationship, including your billing practices. In the end, these long-term relationships are built on a mutual respect and trust that pretty much will transcend everything else. If you can accomplish these things, you will have many clients and friends for life.

TS: What gives you the most satisfaction?

Cohen: Many things qualify among those that give me great satisfaction as a lawyer. Some have resonated with me for a long time, and I have come to value others over time. Helping clients resolve their problems and being treated as a trusted advisor and part of the client team is probably at the top of my list. Strategizing a case at the beginning and seeing it through to the exact anticipated conclusion comes next. Mentoring friends and younger lawyers is something more recent for me, but that creates equal satisfaction. And then there has been the lead-up to chairing the TIPS organization, which has been a much more fulfilling experience for me than I anticipated. Talk to me in a year, but I am fairly sure you will hear the same thing at the conclusion of my tenure.

TS: What would you most like to accomplish as TIPS chair?

Cohen: There is a lot to accomplish as we begin implementing the strategic plan I helped create two years ago:

  • Reshaping TIPS for the future, as the Section evolves as an organization. This is central to TIPS’s success.
  • Planning the TIPS meetings over the next year. These include our Fall Leadership Meeting (Amelia Island, October 10–14) and the Section Conference in the spring (New York City, May 1–5, 2019), which has become the Section’s main meeting of the year.
  • Adding to our brilliant list of stand-alone, subject-matter-specific meetings, which are among the best in the industry.
  • Expanding our already strong leadership team, from committee vice-chairs to TIPS officers.
  • Staying focused on emerging issues, and helping our new and existing committees find ever better ways to serve members. One example is our new Cannabis Law and Policy Task Force.
  • Bringing another new concept to fruition: Our new Insurance Institute will take place in New York City on April 30, 2019.
  • Initiating new groups to help implement our strategic plan goals: The Law Practice and Legal Department Management Task Force, Business Development and Networking Task Force, and Strategic Communications Task Force will all develop initiatives to help us provide and communicate member value in more meaningful and direct ways.

TS: What themes will you focus on for 2018–2019?

Cohen: The theme for TIPS over the next year will be “Raising the Bar” across the board in the areas of thought leadership, content quality and delivery, mentoring, messaging and communication, practice enhancement, and creating more member value. TIPS is still the only place where all the constituent groups come together for dialogue and continuing legal education on an ongoing basis. This dynamic brings all members of the Section to the same table, and I think that dialogue and interaction make the difference.

Roy Cohen’s Advice for New Lawyers:

  • Credentialize yourself in your chosen area(s) of practice.
  • Invest the time to hone your skills as a lawyer, whatever it is you want to do.
  • Make friends inside and outside the legal profession, and pay attention to your family. These relationships will sustain you throughout your career and your life.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice from those around you; you will be surprised at how receptive everyone is when asked to provide guidance.
  • Join TIPS, and then reach out to someone in leadership, including the chair; ask how to get active, and then do it.
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TortSource Interview with Incoming TIPS Chair Roy Cohen

Roy Cohen is a principal of Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, P.C., in Morristown, New Jersey. He is a senior trial lawyer with experience litigating and trying a wide variety of products liability, toxic tort, construction, environmental contamination, professional liability, premises liability, automotive and trucking, class action, and business litigation matters. He may be reached at [email protected].