One was a pioneer, making partner at a time when African-American attorneys still had trouble getting hired. The other was a founding father of the antitrust bar, whose name was on the door of one of Washington’s top law firms for a half-century.
The legal community is mourning the recent loss of Vincent Cohen Sr. and Bill Simon, two veteran attorneys remembered for their love of trial practice, their success in court and their role in reshaping the practice of law in Washington.
Cohen, the first black partner at Hogan Lovells (then Hogan & Hartson) and of counsel to the firm as of 2001, had a practice that spanned civil and criminal cases at the trial and appellate levels. He served on numerous bar association boards and had a hand in city affairs, including spearheading construction of the Washington Convention Center.
Simon chaired the American Bar Association Section of Antitrust in the 1950s and was a pre-eminent expert on the oil industry, colleagues say. A co-founder of Howrey, he was a leader for decades in what was once one of Washington’s largest firms. He retired in 1984.
Their passing comes just weeks after the death of another veteran Washington attorney, former District of Columbia Bar president and Covington & Burling partner David Isbell, who died on Dec. 7.
Cohen, 75, died on Christmas morning. Simon, 99, passed away two days later.
Cohen became Hogan’s first African-American partner in 1972. He was, as U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth recalls, one of the first black partners at any major firm in Washington. Lamberth, who was with the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington at the time and sparred on several occasions with Cohen in court, said he was a “trailblazer,” and “did conscientiously push to get other firms, as well as Hogan, to make black partners.”
“He was always prepared. You were never going to catch him not knowing the answer,” Lamberth said.
Lamberth was among the more than 700 former colleagues, friends and family who attended a memorial service for Cohen on Jan. 4 at the convention center. Cohen’s son, Vincent Cohen Jr., said the turnout was a testament to his father’s commitment to mentoring as well as his success.
“Because he was the first African-American [partner], he did not want to be the last,” said Cohen Jr., the principal assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. “He wanted to open the door for others so that they could succeed at the profession of law, not only at his firm but throughout the Washington area.” Cohen Jr. added that his father not only mentored young African-American attorneys, but other staff as well, from administrators to mailroom workers.
Cohen was born in 1936 in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was drafted to play professional basketball, but took a law school scholarship instead, graduating from Syracuse University College of Law in 1960. Before joining Hogan in 1969, he worked for the Justice Department and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. At Hogan, his practice ranged from products liability and medical malpractice to workers’ compensation and malicious prosecution.
“He loved to go to trial and he loved to win. The competitive edge he had playing basketball his whole life, he would transfer over to the trial work he did,” Cohen Jr. said.
Hogan partner Harry Jones Jr. said he first met Cohen in 1976, while he was interviewing for a job at the firm. “I was awestruck,” said Jones, who was the third African-American attorney to make partner at Hogan. “For somebody coming out of law school, as I was, it was uplifting to think, here’s somebody who’s a partner, you can do that, he’s done that. But you can still be yourself, as he was,” he said.
Major clients over the years included Bell Atlantic (now Verizon Communications Inc.) and Pepco Holdings Inc. “If you thought you were going to have a major litigation issue that might end up in trial, you would go to Vinnie,” Jones said.
Cohen also handled cases assigned by the court. Cohen Jr. said that watching his father argue a trial on behalf of an indigent defendant accused of murder in the early 1980s made him want to be a lawyer. “I was just mesmerized by how the judge and the jurors focused on him, the advocate in the middle of the stage,” he said.
Cohen’s work outside of the firm included serving on the Federal City Council, the Public Defender Service board of directors and the D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure.
“He was very much involved in the community, period. He always felt he needed to give back,” Jones said.
In addition to Cohen Jr., Cohen is survived by his wife, Diane Cohen, and his children Robyn Hudson and Traci Dennis.
Simon was considered a legal jack-of-all-trades, arguing for plaintiffs and defendants, before juries and the U.S. Supreme Court, and doing it all with a staggering win record.
“Today, if you’re a Supreme Court lawyer, that’s what you do. If you’re an FTC lawyer, that’s what you do. If you’re a trial lawyer, that’s what you do,” said McDermott Will & Emery partner Raymond Jacobsen Jr., who worked at Howrey from 1975 to 1997. “He did it all. He was unusual in that he could do so many things well, and clients insisted on using him.”
Simon was born in 1912; he practiced law in Chicago before coming to Washington in the 1940s as general counsel to a Senate subcommittee. During the Korean War, he was general counsel to the Petroleum Administration for Defense, a federal agency that managed petroleum and gas distribution.
In 1956, Simon, Harold “Hal” Baker, Jack Howrey and Dave Murchison established Howrey, Simon, Baker & Murchison, a Washington powerhouse until its dissolution in March 2011.
Simon’s daughter, Ann Simon, an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, said “the thing that he loved most was trying cases. He loved juries and talking to juries.” One lesson he passed down, she said, was that “when you make an argument, you should make it simple enough that you could deliver it to an uninformed, casual friend, preferably in three sentences.”
Simon’s son, William H. Simon, also went into law. He’s currently a professor at Stanford Law School and Columbia Law School.
Former Howrey lawyer Robert Abrams, now a partner at Baker & Hostetler, said Simon left firm management, for the most part, to Baker. “Hal let him be successful, let him try cases, which is what he wanted to do and loved to do,” Abrams said.
He was good at it, too. In 1981, he won a $276.6 million judgment in an antitrust case against AT&T, the largest jury award of its kind at the time. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2d Circuit affirmed the judgment in 1983. Ann Simon said the case was his favorite and that her father thought “that his cross-examination of the former head of AT&T…was the best trial work he ever did.”
In addition to his trial work, Simon argued five cases before the Supreme Court. In one of those cases, Exxon Corp. v. Governor of Maryland, Exxon was joined by a group of other oil companies when it went to the high court. Abrams said the companies discussed hiring “Archibald Cox, or [other] really pre-eminent Supreme Court advocates to argue…but the only person they could agree upon to make that argument was Bill Simon.”
Simon was also remembered for the respect he showed other lawyers at Howrey, said Covington & Burling senior of counsel Alan Wiseman, another former Howrey lawyer. “He had that kind of graciousness, in contrast to some who would say, ‘Get it to me Monday morning, I don’t care how long it takes you.’ He was just the opposite,” Wiseman said.
Contact Zoe Tillman at firstname.lastname@example.org.