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Almost Famous: The Extraordinary Career of
David L. Cohen L’81
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When asked about how he made his choices, from picking Swarthmore to choosing Ballard, he says things like, “[I made my choice] with no rational forethought whatsoever,” implying that he is as subject to whims and caprices as your average guy. It doesn’t ring true, though. He consistently chooses the most prestigious option, taking location and family into account.

When he chose Swarthmore, after being deferred from (and later accepted to) Amherst’s early decision program, it was the nation’s top ranked liberal arts college, and was, as Cohen puts it, “close. . . but not too close” to his parents’ home. It was, of course, a perfect choice for him. He triple-majored in political science, history, and economics, and it would have been difficult to choose three disciplines that would be more useful, combined with his law degree, in the years to come.

When he applied to law school, he was accepted by a number of top programs, including Columbia, NYU, Stanford, and Georgetown, but his wife was already attending Penn. Rhonda Resnick Cohen took a year off and went with him to Washington so that he could work full-time for Congressman James Scheuer (D-NY), but when the year was up, he came to Philadelphia.

“I wasn’t going to make her transfer law schools,” Cohen says. Penn, too, turned out to be the perfect place for Cohen, who was at the top of his class (he graded onto Law Review, and graduated with highest honors). He also was able to parlay his comment topic, “Continuing Care Communities for the Elderly: Potential Pitfalls and Proposed Regulation,” into a book, Continuing Care Retirement Communities: An Empirical, Financial and Legal Analysis, which he co-authored with Howard E. Winklevoss and Alwyn V. Powell.

Likewise, when it came to choosing Ballard Spahr, Cohen, who was courted by just about every big-name firm in the city, says that he was just too lazy to strongly consider other options. Don’t believe it for a minute. He’d worked for Ballard during the summer between his second and third years of law school, and he’d made connections with people like Arthur Makadon, who served as a mentor and supporter. (Makadon, a 1967 graduate of Penn Law School was also an adjunct professor at the school when Cohen was a student.)

The stories about what other firms did to try to recruit him, like the partner who sent a vintage Packard limo to the courthouse to pick up a mortified Cohen, only increased the frenzy that surrounded him. With all of that hype, which was admittedly deserved, who was surprised when Cohen made partner after only six years at the firm? And after Cohen chose Makadon, Makadon chose him. Makadon is credited with introducing Cohen and Rendell, which he did, in the only way that matters.

 
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