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What Women Can Learn from Michael Cohen

Vivia Chen

May 22, 2018

Shocked-woman-ArtTo the eternal question as to why women are so lousy at developing business, a top litigator offered this simple explanation: “They lack the hustle,” he said over gulps of Evian at lunch. “They don’t know how to do it, and they don’t enjoy it.”

I know, I know. There are exceptions. As much as I hate to admit it, though, I think he’s onto something.
Which brings me to my favorite guy, Michael Cohen. I know I should stop writing articles singing his wonders, but I find him to be a bottomless font of ideas and inspiration. All lawyers can learn from him, but let me give a big shoutout to you ladies, who often take rejection so personally.

So what can Cohen teach us about the art of the hustle? First, never give up. Instead of going into a funk that his mentor Donald Trump left him in the cold after being elected president, Cohen hit the ground running. I don’t know if Cohen has always been such a talented rainmaker, but he didn’t waste time. In the months following Trump’s election, he hit up AT&T, Novartis, Ford Motor Co., Uber, the government of Qatar, Columbus Nova and Korea Aerospace Industries—though I’m sure that’s far from a complete list.

And his second virtue—and here’s where you ladies need to listen up: He was shameless in overselling himself. Vanity Fair sums up his sales pitch this way: “I don’t know who’s been representing you, but you should fire them all. I’m the guy you should hire. I’m closest to the president. I’m his personal lawyer.”

Did you catch that? Tell ‘em, “I’m the gal you should hire!” Now say it with a straight face.

I know, you’re horrified at the idea of such a hard sell. But that’s what Cohen did. Not only that, but he was pitching things about which he knew squat—like helping AT&T with its proposed merger with Time Warner or facilitating relations for Qatar with Washington. Most of the time, he didn’t seem to know what he was selling, except that he was selling and asking prospective clients to cough up a million bucks or so for his services.

And what’s the upshot to Cohen’s techniques? Well, he did pretty well. Some didn’t buy his spiel (among them, Ford, Uber and Qatar) but several bought it hook, line and sinker (Novartis, AT&T, Columbus Nova, Korea Aerospace), netting Cohen over $4 million.

But unlike Cohen, most of you have an actual expertise, so stop underestimating yourself! What’s more, you’ve got to go for clients, cases, deals and promotions even if you’re not completely, absolutely qualified. (Remember, a 2014 Hewlett Packard report finds that women won’t apply for a job unless they think they are 100 percent qualified, whereas men will gun for it when they meet only 60 percent of the criteria.)

The bottom line is: You are way smarter and infinitely more qualified than some bozo like Cohen. Just think how successful you could be if you displayed a fraction of Cohen’s bluster.

So what are the chances that women will adopt more of a Cohen business-making mode? And what are the chances they’ll succeed if they do?

Not good on either count, says the handful of female lawyers I polled.

“Women cannot even promote themselves when they have something to offer, let alone bullshit for millions,” says a senior counsel at a top 10 bank.

Sad but true.

But you’ve got to give it a try, ladies. What do you have to lose?


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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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