Financial Reform Bill

H. Rodgin Cohen

Yesterday I got to chat with H. Rodgin Cohen, one of the nation’s leading corporate lawyers. Cohen has been accurately described by the New York Times as “the dean of Wall Street lawyers” as well as the “trauma surgeon of Wall Street” (for his heroic work rescuing the nation’s financial system during the 2008 financial crisis).

When he’s not working on bank mega-mergers, Cohen plays a major role in running the venerable firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, where he has spent his entire legal career (except for two years as an Army lawyer). He served as chairman of the firm from 2000 until 2010, when he passed his crown to Joseph Shenker, but Cohen continues to serve in the role of “senior chairman.”

So of course I asked Rodge Cohen about a very hot topic: spring bonuses. What did he have to say?

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The ABA might remain silent when it comes to stopping law schools from taking financial advantage of law students. They might pass rules that allow legal work to flow freely overseas, damaging the livelihoods of lawyers back home. But when it comes to Congress potentially stepping in to regulate lawyers, the organization finds its voice and gets to work.

The ABA Journal reports that the ABA is spearheading an effort to get practicing lawyers excluded from the increased regulation contemplated in the financial reform bill which is now in reconciliation:

The spate of recession-induced financial help scams loomed large in the push for national consumer protection, and competing House and Senate bills now headed for conference committee both specifically target for regulation anyone involved in offering a “consumer financial product or service.”

But the House version has an exemption for lawyers engaged in the practice of law as well as employees directly supervised by them, or in matters incidental to the practice and within the scope of attorney-client relationship. The Senate version does not. In the Senate version, for example, simply holding a trust account would bring a lawyer under the eyes of federal regulators.

Almost a year ago, I noted that it would be very bad if the general public decided to hold lawyers to the same level of scrutiny as bankers in response to the global economic crisis. But screw the public; it should go without saying that lawyers don’t need the federal government on their backs…

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