Stephen Cohen
Stephen Cohen (Dupont Photographers)

Stephen Cohen, a longtime lawyer at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, has joined Sidley Austin as a securities and derivatives enforcement and regulatory partner in Washington, D.C. The move comes eight months after Cohen left the SEC after nearly a dozen years at the securities regulator.

“Twelve years is a fair amount of anyone’s lifetime and I had an exceptionally talented team [at the SEC],” said Cohen on Monday. “I was just ready for a new challenge.”

Cohen, 45, first joined the SEC in 2004 as an assistant chief litigation counsel in the enforcement division from Boies Schiller Flexner’s office in Washington, D.C. In 2009, he became senior adviser to SEC chair Mary Schapiro until December 2010, when Cohen was promoted to associate director of enforcement.

Cohen officially resigned from the SEC on June 3, 2016, but spent the summer travelling throughout Europe with his wife, Alison Barnes, a trial and appellate litigation partner at prominent Washington, D.C.-based boutique Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber, and their three children.

“It’s hard, sometimes, to spend that dedicated time with your kids,” Cohen said. “My thinking was that it might do me and my family some good to spend that time with them in between jobs.”

As an associate director at the SEC, Cohen oversaw some of its most prominent financial fraud cases, including subsidiaries of E-Trade Financial Corp. accused of the improper sale of penny stocks through unregistered offerings, Computer Sciences Corp. and its former executives for their alleged manipulation of financial results, as well as fraud investigations involving executives at the Federal National Mortgage Association Inc. (Fannie Mae) and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. (Freddie Mac).

Cohen, who did not work on the SEC’s long-running investigation of hedge fund billionaire Steven Cohen, also led the SEC’s efforts related to the Dodd-Frank Act’s whistle-blower provisions and rulemaking.

“We’re delighted to have Steve because he’s extremely well-respected and he brings a fresh perspective having just come out of the SEC,” said Sidley partner Barry Rashkover, a former SEC associate regional director of enforcement who joined the firm in 2004 and now serves as co-head of Sidley’s securities and derivatives enforcement and regulatory practice.

Cohen joined Sidley, in part, because of the firm’s strength in the securities, derivatives and enforcement area. In 2013, Sidley snagged 11 prominent securities enforcement and regulatory lawyers from Bingham McCutchen, a high-profile lateral acquisition that preceded the eventual collapse of the latter.

At Sidley, Cohen hopes to continue working with clients on government and internal investigations, whistle-blower complaints, enforcement-related litigation and the development of corporations’ compliance programs.

“My hope is that I can help work with the folks that are here and build on their already existing strengths,” Cohen said. “[I want to] help them build out and make the practice better than it already is.”

Stepping out of more than a decade in public service and into private practice, Cohen reflected upon the change in presidential administration and what President Donald Trump’s recent executive order rolling back some provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act could mean for his new role at Sidley.

“I certainly saw first-hand all of the hard work and challenges a new administration faces in trying to build out a team,” Cohen said. “It’s a lot of work.”

He added that while there might be new regulatory rules issued and others rolled back, the core of what regulated entities and public companies face before the federal government will mostly remain the same.

“I think people will see policy changes and they will get headlines,” Cohen said. “But I think at its core the bulk of the day-to-day work will likely remain the same, certainly from an enforcement and examination prospective.”

Cohen joins Sidley after the firm recently saw the departure of several practice leaders. On Feb. 15, Sidley partner Susan Stone, chair of the firm’s insurance and financial services group from Chicago, will become general counsel of the risk and insurance services segment at insurance brokerage giant the Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc.

M. Patricia Thayer, head of Sidley’s West Coast IP litigation practice from San Francisco, also left the firm in January to become associate general counsel for IP litigation at Foster City, California-based biotechnology company Gilead Sciences Inc. Eugene Elrod, co-head of Sidley’s global energy practice, also left the firm last month for Latham & Watkins in Washington, D.C.

Sidley did recently land Linklaters managing associate Jennifer Brennan as a restructuring partner in London, while also bringing on DLA Piper private equity partner Jan Schinkoth in Munich. But Morrison & Foerster snatched Sidley white-collar defense and investigations partner Joshua Hill Jr. in San Francisco, where he joined Sidley in 2012.