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Taking Down The Shingle

I’ve worked in law for over fifteen years and been a lawyer for nearly a decade, and it is time for me to bring this chapter of my life to a close.

I’ve spent the last decade working to defend individuals’ constitutional rights against government and law enforcement abuses in our state and federal courts, and I believe I have done so with integrity and skill. I have proven bad arrests to be false, helped innocent people to go free, made positive precedent to protect individuals’ rights, and otherwise assisted people in bad situations and increased access to justice. It has been an honor and a privilege to have done this work, and to have been an active participant and leader in the New York City progressive bar, but I need to bring this chapter of my life to a close.

My reason for leaving the profession is both simple and personal: it just hurts me too much to continue. As a civil rights attorney, I represent individuals whose reliance on our society’s bedrock guarantees have been violated. Even in cases where no physical injuries are involved, individuals are still traumatized, and part of my work is to passionately convey the extent of their harms to the court. Some lawyers may be able to compartmentalize the horror and the agony that we deal with, but I have never been good at that. It may be why I have been an effective advocate, but it is also why I cannot continue in this role.

Through personal reflection and with professional guidance, I’ve come to realize that the continuing emotional toll of my work is making me deeply depressed. More importantly, however, I’ve learned to accept and embrace that I am not obligated to continue to be a lawyer, even if I am “one of the good guys.” A lot of my sense of self-worth has gotten tied into my work in a way that I recognize is ultimately destroying me.

In my career I’ve only lost two cases out of hundreds, but I remember and am haunted by those failures every day. I also carry the pain of having known and lost good, troubled people who came to me for help with their lives, and who passed too soon due to tragedies unrelated to my practice. As the stakes rise higher and higher for even the smallest cases due to this administration’s immigration policies, I have reached a crossroads, where I feel I can either continue in practice, or have a chance to live a long and happy life, but not both. So I’m making a clean break, and trying to start a new chapter in my life.

It is my intention to leave practice entirely, rather than attempting to transition to a lower-impact area of practice than civil rights litigation. Although I am proud of the work that I have done, I’m also confident that the strength of the civil rights bar in NYC will not be crippled by my departure from the practitioner community. I feel it’s necessary to put myself in a position where I cannot be tempted back for “just one more case,” because there will always be more cases.

I have keeping my professional transition low profile as I wrapped up my remaining cases, for fear that admitting what I’ve been going through would be seen as weakness that could harm my clients. Now that I am free of those responsibilities, I am asking you not only for your help in shaping the next stage of my career and my life. I want to reconnect with all of you not as counsel, or as an officer of the court, but simply as myself, and to find a new shape for my life in my community that is more sustainable, more joyful, and where I can ultimately be myself and live.

And so, my friends, family, colleagues, peers and former clients, I am asking for your help in making this transition. I know that I need to be doing something else with my life, but I don’t have a clear idea of what that next step should be. I have been applying for various positions in law instruction, non-profit administration, and marketing, but I am open to other ideas that people may have for me. I enjoy learning about new things and then sharing that knowledge with others (persuasively if necessary), and I’m sure there are some other uses for my skill set besides the law.

Please reach out to me, to let me know that you accept what I am doing, and to help how you can. And to be clear: being there counts as helping. Thanks for your time.

Love,
s

From 2015: Introducing Samuel B. Cohen, Attorney & Counselor At Law

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved to learn, and perhaps that’s why I love being a lawyer.

No matter what subject, no matter how significant or trivial the pursuit, I’ve spent the more joyous parts of my life reading, listening and exploring in pursuit of knowledge.  I have been blessed with a hunger for understanding, and a good memory to retain the facts and impressions that I have gathered.  To be able to use my knowledge in service of others, and in the service of justice, gives me tremendous satisfaction.

And so it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the online home of my new solo practice.  I have been fortunate to develop strong relationships with accomplished mentors and staunch colleagues who have helped me to develop the expertise and insights that I employ on behalf of my clients, and I am proud to aspire to the highest standards of my profession every day, for each of my clients.

Below my name in the logo above, you’ll see a quotation from the book of Deuteronomy (16:20), “Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue.”  This was the reading on the week of my wedding to my wonderful wife, and it has become a personal motto for me.  Scholars have said that Justice is mentioned twice in this verse to emphasize that there are two types of Justice needed in a virtuous world: strict adherence to the obligations of the law, and compromise in pursuit of fairness.  We live in the balance between these two conceptions of Justice, and my practice aspires to the harmonization of law and fairness.

Please explore this website to learn about my various areas of practice, and feel free to contact me directly with any questions or requests for consultation.

Very Truly Yours,
Samuel B. Cohen