Special Counsel for Katten Muchin Ronsenmann, NY
How long have you been in this profession?
I have been practicing law (and never quite getting it) right since August 1980. During my career, I have also held various non-legal positions, including President of one of the companies I worked for.
What is the larger field or industry or line of work in which your job fits? How did you get this job/ how did you come into this field of work? What does your work entail?
Generally, my practice of law embraces derivatives, securities and cryptoassets. I mostly give advice, but since I joined Katten in 2014, I have increasingly been involved with government and self-regulatory organization investigations and enforcement matters on behalf of my clients. I started as a securities lawyer in 1980 with Richard Nixon’s old law firm – Mudge Rose Guthrie & Alexander, and after a luncheon meeting with the former general counsel of the Commodity Exchange, Inc. in 1982 I joined the Commodity Futures Trading Commission as an enforcement attorney. After four years with the CFTC, I joined a regional brokerage company in NYC as chief compliance officer. Ultimately I became global General Counsel and a member of the Executive Committee of Fimat -later called Newedge- and Fimat became the world’s largest brokerage company of exchange-traded derivatives. I was lucky to frequently travel the world and deal with regulators, clients and staff, and stayed with my company until the end of 2012 when I left to form my own non-legal consulting company. Unfortunately, one of my very favorite outside counsel, Katten Muchin Rosenman was persistent (and had too many of my favorite people working for them) and they abducted me, threw me into an office in NYC, and I have not escaped since! After joining Katten in May 2014, I began to learn about virtual currencies, and quickly had the fortune to represent the first exchange and clearinghouse in the US to receive a federal license to trade cryptocurrencies. I have since written, spoken and advised consistently on blockchain technology and cryptoassets.
What is a typical day at work look like?
My typical day is chaos – a swirl of activity from the moment I walk into the door of my office, until the time I walk out. It’s an avalanche of telephone calls, meetings, research and running here and there (because I like to make house calls, so to speak, to visit my clients. Nothing beats in-person meetings for better understanding and efficiency). No two days are the same.
What skills have you acquired through your profession?
Empathy and an appreciation of how similar we all are – no matter where located or what nationality or religion we may be. I know it is cliché, but we all naturally strive for peace and laughter. Sometimes it’s hard to get along with folks who are different – we have to learn new languages, new cultures, and sometimes we have to set aside our views that divide us. But we have more in common with one another than we have differences. I have learned this by traveling the globe, hiking the mountains, eating at diners throughout the US, and most importantly, by listening and laughing with others. Laughter has no language or cultural barrier.
What are some of the skills that you learned through the study of English at stony brook? Do you find that you are able to employ the skills that you learned under the department in your job or day to day life?
There is little doubt that my study of English literature set me up for the rest of my career. It opened my eyes to so much more. It helped define my purpose. I remember- and often quote- Alfred Lord Tennyson from Ulysses:
…Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
I believe in this mantra , and daily strive to sail beyond the sunset. Reading literature exposed me to a world outside of Massapequa, Long Island, where I grew up. It took me on journeys from the Middle Ages to the then 20 th century. I travelled throughout the globe by reading authors from so many lands. This made me appreciate differences and seek similarities. This forced me to learn to communicate as simply as possible to ensure my message was conveyed accurately and not misunderstood. In short, this taught me humanity. My study of English refined my skill to assimilate data, reflect upon it, and communicate about it succinctly.
What was your favorite aspect of studying at Stony Brook?
I can’t think of a single aspect of my experience at Stony Brook that I enjoyed above others. I had a wonderful four years there – from the academics to the extracurricular activities to the many friends I made. I concede though – the morning runs to Jack-in-the-box after putting editions of Statesman to bed were particularly enjoyable.
What is the most satisfying and the most challenging part of your job?
I have always enjoyed the diversity of what I do at each job I have had, and learning new things. The most challenging aspect of my jobs has been the 24 hour day. When my kids were younger, it was challenging to balance the demands of work and home. Now, it is tough to balance work and home to spend more time with my wife. I find staying away from electronic gadgets challenging too. If Faulkner thought time was the “ reducto absurdum ” of all human experience, I can only imagine what he would have thought if iPhones.
Do you have any aspirations for the future? What kind of job related path do you hope to follow, or are you content as you are?
Looking forward, I would like to publish at least one novel and something about Route 66. To me, Route 66 was the great unifier of America in the 1950’s and there are lessons to be learned for our divided country today.
For Stony Brook students interested in your line of work, what is your advice for what they should study or strive to accomplish at this point in their education?
The most valuable advice I can give Stony Brook students today is the same advice I was given before entering the university. The four years of undergraduate education are the last time you can truly enjoy learning without responsibility. When you get older, you have to prepare for your career and then actually work. Your life will be filled with obligations. Use the four years as an undergraduate to learn for learning’s sake. Take courses to challenge yourself. I remember taking Latin and Earth and Space science, among other courses, to satisfy my curiosity. Do the same. Have fun but be serious. Don’t be afraid to listen to criticism and refine your skills. It’s all for the good, and it will all pay off. And recognize, as finally did Paul Morel in the last pages of DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers , we are not all centers of the universe. We may all be centers of our individual universe, but we are simply one wheat husk among many. Keep that in mind in times of difficulty to realize our issues are not so unique. We are simply individually not so important, and we should not take ourselves so seriously. And most importantly, laugh and keep laughing until it hurts.