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Michael R. Cohen worked with the Department of Employment and Economic Development to produce “A Legal Guide to Technology Transactions 2019.” (Submitted photo)
Michael R. Cohen worked with the Department of Employment and Economic Development to produce “A Legal Guide to Technology Transactions 2019.” (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: Attorney offers businesses tech deal advice

Name: Michael R. Cohen

Title: Principal, privacy officer, Gray Plant Mooty

Education: B.A., urban studies, University of Pittsburgh; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School

Michael R. Cohen, a principal and privacy officer at Gray Plant Mooty, focuses on keeping track of how technology has evolved and how the law has evolved with it.

One product of that focus is Cohen’s new “A Legal Guide to Technology Transactions 2019.” It’s a collaboration of the firm and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

This new edition updates a 2012 guide with new information on subjects including blockchain technology, smart contracts and new data privacy and security law, Cohen said.

Cohen looks at tech transactions from both sides, recommending a win-win approach “that’s going to make your business better and give you a competitive advantage” while the vendor “gets paid what it’s worth.”

Q: What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A: Ask me how my children, grandchildren and daughter-in-law are doing in New York City. I’ve got two boys. One is married and has a 3-year-old daughter and a 10-month-old son. We go out to New York probably every six or eight weeks.

Q: What prompted you to study law and pursue it professionally?

A: I didn’t go to law school after graduation. My wife and I moved to the Twin Cities because of the quality of life. My early career was in urban planning and public policy. I worked at the Urban Coalition. I became friendly with the lawyers that worked in that area, admired their skills and expertise and decided maybe I should go to law school.

Q: What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A: “The Plot Against America” by Philip Roth, “Educated,” by Tara Westover and “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah.

Q: What is a pet peeve of yours?

A: Contracts with technical jargon or legalese that can more easily be translated into plain English that can be understandable by a reasonably intelligent businessperson.

Q: What are your favorite aspects of being an attorney?

A: You can always learn more in the areas that I practice in of data privacy, information technology and intellectual property because they’re constantly changing. I love to educate my clients on the new laws and provide practical advice on how actions they take can keep them out of trouble and offer them a competitive advantage. Something that’s happening more and more lately is taking a call from a frantic client who’s just experienced a possible data breach, talking them through the next steps and then convincing them that the sky is not falling.

Q: Least favorite?

A: When the technology is not working for us.

Q: What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A: Visiting my children and grandchildren in New York City.

Q: If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A: My hometown is Philadelphia. I would take them to a basketball game at the Palestra and then follow that up with a cheesesteak at Delessandro’s.

Q: Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most?

A: Louis Dembitz Brandeis, the former U.S. Supreme Court justice. He wrote a Harvard Law Review article in 1890 called “The Right to Privacy,” and in that he argued for the right to be left alone. That was the harbinger of all the privacy laws that came after that.

Q: What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney?

A: A misconception many have about my practice is they assume that I’m a lawyer that appears in court on a regular basis. I have been in practice since 1985 and I’ve never once represented a client before a judge in court.

Q: What is your favorite depiction of the law, the legal professional in popular culture?

A: My favorite lawyer would be Saul Goodman in “Breaking Bad.” He’s nothing like me and I want my clients to know that.

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