Corporate Law Star H Rodgin Cohen – The Corporate Law Legal Legend

Rodgin Cohen Law Star


Although retired, former Sullivan & Cromwell lawyer Rodgin Cohen is one of the law stars in the US legal world, referred to by the Wall Street Journal as the country’s leading banking lawyer and the ‘trauma surgeon of Wall Street’.


Described as having near-legendary status on Wall Street, Cohen has been variously described as being a ‘standard bear’ for the banking industry and law, a ‘spectacular’ participant in banking industry regulation and reform and arguably the most pre-eminent attorney in the banking field in the United States.

Cohen represented at least 17 financial institutions during the crisis—including Bear Stearns that spring. He helped them deal with the threats and consequences of the overheated housing market, the risks of new financial instruments, and liquidity problems. When things started melting, he suggested new ways to apply old rules and proposed unprecedented partnerships among competitors. 

“During the Bear Stearns crisis, the question was: Could the Federal Reserve provide support?” Cohen recalls. “We were able to go back and look at an amendment of the Federal Reserve Act in the early 1990s that had not been adopted for this purpose but actually gave the Fed enough latitude, if they were prepared to take it—which they did—to provide the assistance to prevent Bear from failing.”

But perhaps Cohen’s greatest achievement had nothing to do with the US banking law world, but rather an incident that grabbed the world’s headlines with the Iran Hostage crisis, which say the New York lawyer playing a key role in 1981 when he helped secure the release of 52 American hostages who were held for 444 days by being involved in the plan to unfreeze almost $8 billion in Iranian assets held by US banks.

GFC Involvement

In 2008 when the subprime mortgage market collapsed and the housing bubble burst, the global economy stood on the edge of collapse.

Cohen helped arrange an unprecedented global rescue when he represented JP Morgan Chase in the purchase of the huge Washington Mutual along with playing a role in the rescue of Continental Illinois, First City, Southeast, Franklin National Bank and Bank of New England and, at the recommendation of the Federal Reserve, prompting the New York Times headline to label him “Counselor Banks Call in a Crisis.”

He negotiated the unconditional guarantees of support the US government on behalf of those TARP-receiving financial groups in 2009 and the deal forced him to drop a potential bid as US Treasury secretary, which had earned him the nickhame ‘overlord and viceroy of all Western capitalism”.

It was in 2009 that his kudos was such that he was considered to be a nominee for Deputy Secretary of the Treasury in the Obama administration.

Born – 1944m Charleston, West Virginia
Education – Graduated from Deerfield Academy, Massachusetts and from Harvard Law School in 1968.
Career – Currently the senior Chair at Sullivan & Cromwell, he began his career. He spent two years in the U.S. Army as a military lawyer and joined Sullivan & Cromwell LLP in 1970. Cohen served as the firm’s Chairman from 2000 through the end of 2009
Home –
Achievements & Contributions – He is a trustee of Deerfield Academy, New York Presbyterian Hospital, the Hackley School, Hampton University and The Economic Club of New York, and is a member of the advisory boards of Wall Street Rising, United Way of Westchester-Putnam and the University of Charleston.
Honors – In 2012 he received the George A. Katz Torch of Learning Award byThe American Friends of the Hebrew University in New York City. He received the Deus Caritas Est Award from the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, recognizing him for demonstrated support to the charitable and social mission of Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of New York. In 2010 he received the Servant of Justice Award at the Legal Aid Society’s 33rd Annual Dinner in New York.
In 2009, he was honored at the Episcopal Charities Annual Tribute dinner in New York. In March 2010, he was recognized as one of “The Decade’s Most Influential Lawyers” by The National Law Journal. The publication noted that he has been “a superstar in the legal industry for years.” In April 2009 The American Lawyer ranked him #1 among its 25 “Dealmakers of the Year.”

Personal – 

H Rodgin Cohen was born to a drug store owner, who ran a chain of drug stores, and a High School teacher, in the Fort Hill section of Charleston, West Virginia.

Living modestly (albeit in a multi million dollar home) in Westchester, NY with his wife, Barbara.  He has two children, a woman, who is a social worker and son who works with American Express.

Described in one article, from the NYMag as a ‘sweet old man’.  Having gone to the Deerfield Academy in an elite school he developed a love of literature and theater and his university life saw him take a range of liberal arts studies.  He was drafted to the army for duties in Vietnam following his graduation from Harvard in 1968, although his law degrees saw him practising law rather than fighting.

By 1970 he had started at Sullivan & Cromwell and started his stellar career.

Now retired, he enjoys his literature (Joseph Conrad in particular) and theater, but also country music and his dogs.

He walks his dogs along the Croton Aqueduct. Both dogs are rescue dogs, Bacall and Tupelo. 

Professional –

There appears to be few banking and related transactions in US law that have not involved the hand of H Rodgin Cohen.

In terms of acquisitions, for instance, he has been involved in just about every major banking acquisition in the US, including Royal Bank of Canada-City National, CIT-OneWest, Hudson City-M&T, Wells Fargo-Wachovia, PNC-National City, Toronto Dominion-Commerce, Bank of New York-Mellon Financial, Regions-AmSouth, , Chase-Bank One, First Union-Wachovia, U.S. Bancorp-Firstar, Wells Fargo-Norwest, Wells Fargo-First Interstate, Chemical-Chase, First Union-First Fidelity, Key-Society, NationsBank-C&S and Bank of New York-Irving.

Globally there have been many others involving the biggest banks and organizations in the world.  The deals have involved cross-industry and private equity acquisitions as well as divestitures and mergers.

Iranian Crisis Role

He achieved a degree of global fame with his role as a leading player in the bank negotiations to free the Iranian hostages in 1981       and also in the development of a new protocol for international payments. Cohen was played by Robert J. Hogan in the 2011 film Too Big to Fail. The video below relates to the situation with the crisis.

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