Legal Pad checked in with the new managing partner of Heller Ehrman’s L.A. office, Nancy Cohen, the litigator "Above the Law" described as a "divalicious" "badass litigatrix" who "protected her witnesses like a lioness protecting her cubs." Below, is the edited interview with Cohen on everything from her plans for the office to her new nickname to layoff rumors.
Legal Pad: So, you worked as Heller’s L.A. managing partner before. Did you ever think you’d be back?
Cohen: Never in a million years. I thought I had handed it over, and I could ride into the sunset, but no.
Legal Pad: How do you feel about doing it again?
Cohen: I am actually excited about it. Leadership in the office is important. And growing the office, and keeping the morale up, that’s important. We put lots of pressure on lawyers these days. You have to keep a happy work environment.
The Diva is In
Legal Pad: How are you going to do that?
Cohen: You have to make sure people in the office are having opportunities to relate to each other so we don’t get caught in silos. We get together for lunch on Friday, all the lawyers in the office. And we’re having a Dec. 15 retreat.
Legal Pad: Where’s that?
Cohen: Sunset and the 405, at a hotel. We’re going to spend a day together, and talk about issues that are important to associates. People want a work environment where they’re continually challenged, and that means growing the business, so I am quite focused on that as well.
Legal Pad: How much time are you going to spend practicing vs. managing?
Cohen: I am going to keep my fulltime schedule. Leadership in a law firm is an enormous commitment. I have two trials scheduled in 2008 and I am going to do them. This comes out of your personal time.
Legal Pad: Is there any truth to rumors that there are going to be layoffs of lawyers in the L.A. office?
Cohen: No. The truth is we’re busy in the L.A. office and work continues. When people go out in the market looking, the rumor mill starts spreading. As you know, there are people who have left.
Legal Pad: How do you feel about “Above the Law” blog calling you “divalicious”?
Cohen: I found out about it from several associate who came to show it to me. Isn’t that funny? I just looked at it and howled. There is a lesson there. You just never know who is going to be writing about you, thinking about you, making comments about you. It’s a reminder that you should always do your best and always be sensitive and nice, civil.
Legal Pad: Tell me a little more about yourself. You have a screenwriter husband. Is he on strike?
Cohen: No. At one point, he was a professor of film, and he wrote screenplays. He was the winner of the Nicholl Fellowship, a screenwriting contest. Now, I think he’s playing more golf than working. And that’s ok, it’s perfectly fine. We’ve been married 35 years. I got married as an undergraduate at the University of Texas.
Legal Pad: What is an example of a case you’ve worked on that you’re particularly proud of?
Cohen: I represented the lender who had the mortgage on the Twin Towers. I helped them get insurance money and pay off their mortgage, which they were successful in doing.
Legal Pad: Have things changed for women since you became the first woman to head the L.A. office in 1995?
Cohen: I am of the generation of women who didn’t have many mentors. There weren’t a lot of women out there doing this. I believe every year things improve somewhat for women. When I first started practicing, I’d be the only woman in the room in multiparty litigations. That’s not true anymore. I have never ever had a problem with leadership by women at Heller Ehrman. It’s very receptive and supportive of women.
Legal Pad: Final thought on the new gig?
Cohen: Leadership is important not only in the office, but outside the office. Leadership means involvement in the community. That’s as critical as anything you can do. That’s one of my goals as well: to help lawyers in the office involve themselves in community activities.
— Kellie Schmitt