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September 21, 2011 7:27 PM

Zuckerman Adds Former Top Cuomo Aide to Bolster New York Office

Posted by Sara Randazzo

Cohen Zuckerman Spaeder has hired Steven Cohen—a former top adviser to New York governor Andrew Cuomo— as the fourth partner in its New York office, where he will focus on white-collar criminal defense, crisis management, government investigations, and complex commercial and regulatory matters while helping the firm expand its New York presence.

Zuckerman chairman Graeme Bush says that Cohen's background will be an asset in his role as recruiter. The firm plans to add lawyers in New York who focus on white-collar and government investigations areas, as well as commercial litigation involving the financial services industry. "He was a perfect fit for us," Bush says.

Cohen joins Zuckerman, where he officially began working Monday, after spending four and a half years in Andrew Cuomo's inner circle, first as chief of staff during Cuomo's tenure as New York attorney general, and then as secretary to the governor when Cuomo assumed the state's top elected office in January.

The 48-year-old Cohen's relationship with Cuomo dates to when Cohen was a 21-year-old intern working in the New York governor's office when Andrew's father, former New York governor Mario Cuomo (now of counsel at Willkie Farr & Gallagher), held the job.

Cohen left his job as secretary to the governor in July for financial and family reasons and because of what he tells The Am Law Daily was a desire to return to the professional identity to which he most relates—that of a practicing lawyer. His departure from public service, he adds, was more than two years in the making.

"Every year in December I would explain to [Cuomo] that I would now be leaving," Cohen says. "And he would explain to me that I wouldn't be leaving, that my job is not done yet."

Among his accomplishments while working for Cuomo, Cohen places his role in helping to pass New York's same-sex marriage law earlier this year at the very top. "It's rare you really feel you do something so special and so meaningful it makes the whole experience worthwhile," he says. "For me, the day marriage equality passed had that feeling....That was the day I knew I would be leaving."

Prior to joining Cuomo at the attorney general's office, Cohen worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York and, later, as a partner at New York litigation boutique Kronish Lieb Weiner & Hellman, which became Cooley Godward Kronish through a merger with Silicon Valley firm Cooley Godward in 2006. (The firm is now known simply as Cooley.)

Cohen said Zuckerman's size—nearly 90 lawyers in offices in Baltimore, Tampa, New York, and Washington—and culture were factors in his decision to join the firm.

"I'm not a big believer in large, bureaucratic organizations," says Cohen, adding that he was able to navigate government bureaucracies by gathering the "right people" around him. "The world values creativity, it values people who can take apart a problem and put it together again, and it's easier to do that in a more hands-on environment."

Cohen says he was also drawn to Zuckerman by the entrepreneurial opportunity offered by the firm's desire to expand the New York office and by the chance to recapture the hands-on spirit that marked his time at Kronish, where he worked for eight years. Cohen left the firm six months after the merger to take his first job with Cuomo. He says Cooley's size contributed to his decision to leave.

Cohen's affinity for small teams and entrepreneurship were an equal draw for Zuckerman, according to Bush. Zuckerman's culture means "being lean and focused and nimble," he says. "We like being in tough cases. We like the collegiality of having the size we have."

Cohen is the second former top Cuomo aide to land in private practice recently. Mitra Hormozi, who led the state's Commission on Public Integrity and also served as a special deputy chief of staff to Cuomo in the attorney general's office, joined Kirkland & Ellis as a partner in New York last week, the New York Law Journal reports.

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