While returning to law after losing the election for a fourth term as New York City mayor in 1989 was the “logical next step,” Edward Koch said in his 1999 autobiography, he admitted that “if you had asked me I might have told you I never expected to go back to the practice of law.”
The law—Koch wrote in “I’m Not Done Yet!”—”would not make me happy. There would have to be other activities to consume my energy, interest and talents.”
Koch, who died on Feb. 1 at 88, said his prospective colleagues realized he would never litigate or become an expert in any one field.
Celebrating his 85th birthday and his 20th anniversary with Bryan Cave at the St. Regis on Nov. 18, 2009, Koch poses with former Senator Alphonse D’Amato, at left, and Bryan Cave partners James Gill and Vincent Alfieri. NYLJ/Rick Kopstein
“My value to any firm would be to bring in clients and open doors, since I knew so many people in and out of government,” he wrote. “I would be a kind of goodwill ambassador for the firm in general, and provide strategic and tactical advice, particularly to those seeking to do business with the city.”
And for the next 23 years at Robinson, Silverman, Pearce, Aronsohn & Berman, which merged with Bryan Cave, Koch provided strategic advice to clients, helped woo them and develop the firm’s reputation, while pursuing his interests outside the law, such as writing books, newspaper columns and movie reviews, as well as appearing as a judge on TV’s “The People’s Court” and hosting a talk radio show.
“We didn’t have him in the library looking up cases or drafting memorandum,” said James Gill, Koch’s close friend and longtime law partner. “But we exposed him to clients and they were very glad to get his thoughts and ideas.”
“He brought to our firm a depth of not just knowledge but wisdom about the city and business in the city that was unmatched by anyone else” said Vincent Alfieri, managing partner of Bryan Cave’s New York office who said Koch came into the office every day. “His value and his contributions were as a counselor, a person with that kind of deep and broad knowledge of how government and business work together.”
Alfieri said Koch’s role wasn’t necessarily to make a phone call or open a door, but offer the wisdom that he had gathered in years of public service. He would advise companies who were in litigation or contemplating litigation or who had a problematic business arrangement, Alfieri said.
“Certainly some clients were attracted to us because Ed was here,” he said.
Andrew Odell, a Duane Morris international law partner who practiced with Koch, said, “We used him all the time” to greet international clients and foreign representatives.
“He was very prominent, and everybody wanted to be seen with him,” Odell said.
Once Koch flew to São Paulo, Brazil, where the city’s mayor was thinking about improving public housing and needed lawyers to help raise funds, said Odell. The mayor and Koch hit it off so well the mayor gave Koch a private helicopter tour of the city.
Koch’s former law partners remembered ways in which he boosted the firm’s reputation.
Robinson Silverman “was a marquee firm but not a household name,” said Miriam Hyman, who left for Duane Morris in 2007.
When mention of the firm would result in a blank stare, she said, she would say, “That’s where Ed Koch is, and they would say, ‘Oh, yes!’”
“It was always a positive factor that he was affiliated with us,” she added.
Gill said Koch gave the firm visibility.
“Having him on board as a partner was very positive…to have that kind of person available for consultation and advice and recommendation,” Gill said.
Peter Fitzpatrick, a former law partner now at K&L Gates, said Koch was “very giving of his time.”
“If you had a client who was coming in and you asked him to stop and say hello, he would stop by the conference room,” Fitzpatrick said. “Clients loved his personality.”
Koch graduated from New York University School of Law in 1948. He was a solo practitioner handling real estate and transactional matters before becoming a partner at Koch, Lankenau, Schwartz & Kovner from 1965 to 1969.
“I was very proud of the fact that ours is the only law firm in the history of the city to produce one mayor and two corporation counsels; Victor Kovner became corporation counsel in David Dinkin’s administration,” he wrote in “I’m Not Done Yet!”
Allen Schwartz was Koch’s first corporation counsel in 1978 and was later appointed by President Bill Clinton to the Southern District bench.
Gill, who persuaded Koch to join Robinson Silverman, said Koch had offers from other firms. Koch in his book said he was close to joining Proskauer Rose, where Schwartz had gone to practice. Thinking back, Koch wrote, he was glad he went to Robinson Silverman.
“Lord knows, if I’d gone with a really large firm, and if business soured, I’d be one of the first to go in any kind of downsizing because I was never going to bring in a massive number of new clients,” he wrote.
“For me, working as a partner in a midtown law firm was certainly not the same as being mayor of the greatest city in the world,” he wrote. “It wasn’t even the same as being a congressman representing 520,000 people in the greatest city in the world, but it had its own important and interesting challenges.”
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