May 19, 2015

Alumni Spotlight: Yoni Cohen, Manager of Global Risk Management at KPMG

Yoni CohenOur alumni work in diverse careers and industries around the globe but all share a common bond grounded in the history and their experience at the firm.   Yehonatan “Yoni“ Cohen left the firm in late 2012 to move to Berlin for one year so his wife could finish her PhD and he could learn German.  That was over two years ago and, as the saying goes, “the rest is history“.   We recently caught up with Yoni and he filled us in on his current position as Manager of Global Risk Management at KPMG in Germany and he also shared more about his history with the firm and how it prepared him for the next chapter of his legal career. 

You moved to Germany in 2012.  Can you describe what precipitated the move? 
My wife is German.  We initially planned to move to Berlin for one year so that she could finish her PhD and I could learn German.  As our year came to an end, my wife and I realized that we both really enjoy living in Germany and, for now, we plan to stay. 

 What has life been like living in Germany?
Adjusting to life in Germany has been pretty easy.  German is a hard language to learn, but surprisingly, I achieved proficiency in a relatively short amount of time. One of the big advantages to working in Germany is the work-life balance.  Most lawyers (both in-house and in private practice) do not work late into the night or on weekends. Vacations are very important to Germans and it is rare to find someone who does not take two or three weeks off in the summer (workers are entitled to a minimum of 20 vacation days per year). This creates an atmosphere where social interaction is much more frequent than in the US.

 How did you find your job at KPMG?
A friend of mine heard of the opening and put me in touch with KPMG. Networking was an essential part of my job search. As an American lawyer in Germany, finding the right job required a bit more creativity than a job search back home. 

Can you describe your current role at KPMG?
My job is interdisciplinary. I help mitigate risks associated with global contracting and assist our local offices around the world in negotiating, drafting and implementing global contracts. We have in-house counsel around the world that help ensure that we comply with local laws.  In this capacity, I have the opportunity to interact with legal professionals in numerous countries. In addition to learning about diverse legal systems I am exposed to a wide array of cultures. It is always fascinating to see how different cultures approach business.

When and how did you come to join Drinker Biddle?
I started my career as a Labor and Employment litigator at Bingham McCutchen. After a few years of practice, I learned about a graduate program in Government and Counter-Terrorism in Israel. The program had excellent faculty and an interesting curriculum. I applied on a whim and was accepted so I left that firm for Israel.  After my year in Israel, I returned to Los Angeles and started looking for new opportunities. I was introduced to Drinker Biddle by a headhunter. At the time, the Los Angeles office had only been open for a little over a year. The idea of joining a new office and helping to build the office culture sounded exciting.

Can you tell us more about the Counter-Terrorism graduate program in Israel? 
The graduate program I participated in at the IDC in Israel was amazing. Many of my professors were former military or government officials with in-depth knowledge of counter-terrorism. Classes were small, so I had a chance to get to know my classmates and my professors quite well. I was especially interested in learning about the financing of terrorist organizations (and how governments could counter this threat).  When I learned about this MA program, I simply could not pass up the opportunity to pursue my passion for politics and world affairs.  I never intended to leave the practice of law, I simply took a sabbatical.  

How did your time at Drinker Biddle prepare you for what lay ahead in your career? 
Working at Drinker Biddle gave me the opportunity to work with really smart lawyers. I was always challenged to produce excellent work and to think through issues carefully and creatively.  Practicing law at Drinker Biddle definitely made me a better lawyer.                         

Are there any particularly memorable matters that you worked on while you were at Drinker Biddle?
Absolutely.  Sheldon Eisenberg and I wrote a Supreme Court amicus brief (National Meat Association v. Harris). In this case the meat producers challenged a California law requiring the euthanizing of downed swine (animals which are too sick to walk down the slaughter line). Our amicus brief was written on behalf of veterinarians that argued that the California law was both humane and safe.  Even though the court ultimately sided with the meat producers, it felt good to defend the humane handling of animals and to fight for better health standards for meat. 

Do you have any words of advice for young associates?
I have lots of advice for young associates. I think my two biggest pieces of advice are:

  1. Dare to dream. The beauty of a law degree is that it is versatile. Do not waste your passion sitting at a desk because you are too afraid to try something new. Try and find a way to integrate your interests into your legal practice.
  2. Provide pro-bono legal services. Helping others provides a wonderful rush. Some would argue that it is a means of giving back to the community, but I would argue that what you receive in return far exceeds what you give. Find a pro-bono project you like and get involved. For example, I helped start an adoption project in the LA office (I was very involved with an adoption project at my previous firm). Through the adoption project attorneys help low-income families finalize the legal process of adoption.

 What do you enjoy doing when you are not in the office?   
I am an avid travel fan. My goal was to visit 50 countries by my 30th birthday. Despite a last minute visit to Lichtenstein, I only managed to see 49 countries by my 30th birthday, but managed to visit my 50th country shortly thereafter. I continue to travel. I love visiting new places and meeting new people, so whenever I have time off I try and travel.

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