Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Name and title: James Coughlin, general counsel. Age: 56 Wheee! Six Flags Inc. is the second-largest theme park operator on the planet, behind only the Walt Disney Co., hosting some 25 million visitors in 20 parks throughout North America. Revenue amounts to about $1 billion annually. The New York-based company has 2,000 year-round employees whose ranks swell to 30,000 during the summer months. In 2004, Six Flags sold its international operations and it recently has been selling parks in smaller markets, including Columbus, Ohio; Seattle; Denver; and Buffalo, N.Y. The plan is to concentrate on major markets and diversify its entertainment offerings beyond the latest roller coaster. To that end, the company paid $40 million in 2007 for a 40% stake in Dick Clark Productions Inc. and its brands, which include American Bandstand and the Golden Globe Awards. The deal was about gaining “content we can use to entertain people,” Coughlin said. The company wants to further broaden its appeal by turning its regional attractions into destinations, � la Disney, that appeal to all age groups � places where moms and dads “can bring the kids, no matter how old they are, and have a great time at the park.” Legal team and outside counsel: Coughlin heads a three-member staff, including an assistant general counsel and a paralegal. “We do everything we can for the company and use outside lawyers when appropriate,” he said. “We’re pretty lean, and it can get intense in the amusement off-season � that’s when you’re doing your deals, your contracts. Once the parks open for business, you worry about the impact of the weather” on attendance. Coughlin said that he values diversity in the workplace and that two of the three members of his team are women. The company has not signed the Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge or the profession’s diversity “Call to Action.” Coughlin relies on outside specialists with whom he’s built relationships over the years. They include Barbara E. Champoux of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal for real estate work; Michele J. Cohen of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker for banking; Dennis J. Block of New York-based Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft for securities work; and Andrew Feiner of Houston-based Andrews Kurth for taxation matters. Daily duties: Coughlin tries to keep all nontransactional business in-house and has, as a consequence, become a generalist. “At any one time, we might have three or four litigations,” he said. “The vast majority are trips and falls, but sometimes they can bang themselves up.” Generally, the park prefers to settle, but that’s not always possible. Coughlin gets involved in the larger cases, and can “spend as much time fighting with insurance companies as with plaintiffs.” He keeps an eye on legislative affairs, such as pending state legislation in Maryland intended to protect children from exposure to lead. “It’s not a job where you have a break in the action � like in private practice, where if you close a transaction you get a day or two to regroup,” he said. “There’s going to be a pile of stuff on your desk every day when you leave, so you must prioritize.” Coughlin would like the legal department to “get ahead of the curve and be more proactive than reactive, but I’ve been saying that for nine years.” His biggest challenge at the moment is keeping up with the new management team that arrived in 2006, intent on changing the company’s focus from buying the “bigger, better roller coaster,” to becoming a full-service entertainment destination. Coughlin reports to Mark Shapiro, Six Flags’ chief executive officer. Route to the top: Coughlin graduated from Harvard College in 1973, expecting to teach history or political science, but with a glut of graduates in those fields he decided to enroll in Boston University School of Law. He graduated in 1977. Law degree in hand, Coughlin headed for New York on the theory that “everyone should live in New York once, and of course I’m still here.” He started his first job in 1977 at the old New York firm Marshall, Bratter, Greene, Allison & Tucker. When the firm “imploded” (in his telling) in 1981, Coughlin joined the corporate department of Seyfarth Shaw. He made partner in 1984. By 1989, Coughlin had made his way to Bear Marks & Upham, which would become part of Thelen Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner. Kieran Burke, then chief executive officer of Premier Parks Inc., was a client of Coughlin’s at Bear Marks and brought him into the management team that bought Six Flags from Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. in 1998. Coughlin subsequently became Six Flags’ general counsel. The decision to go in-house was “life changing,” Coughlin said. “After 20 years in private practice, you get to doing the same kind of deals over and over,” he said. “Here, it’s environmental one day, [Occupational Health and Safety Administration work] the next. The breadth of the practice makes it interesting.” Career highlight: Helping then-client Premiere Parks acquire Six Flags from Warner Bros. sounds as thrilling as any amusement park ride. “It was an incredibly fast interval,” Coughlin said. He found out about the plan on Dec. 23, 1997, the transaction went public in February 1998 and it closed on April 1. It was “round-the-clock” mergers and acquisitions work for four months, during which Coughlin was “quarterbacking the whole thing.” A word of advice: Anyone contemplating an in-house move should “be prepared to be taken outside your comfort zone,” Coughlin said. “You’re probably going to a smaller department. You may have spent 10 years doing bank agreements, but now you’re going to get questions about which you may know nothing and you need to be prepared to have that uncomfortable feeling when someone asks you those questions.” Personal: Coughlin was born in Rochester, N.Y. He has two children, Katie, 18, and Conor, 16. He enjoys traveling in the American West; a recent trip took him to Jackson, Wyo. He likes to run, but lately has found elliptical rowing somewhat easier on his knees. Last book and movie: Coughlin likes books by Karl Hiaasen and recently took in No Country for Old Men. Of the cinema he said, “I read the reviews religiously, but rarely go to the movies.”

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.