Attorney sees the law as bridge between cultures


- Photos by Robert Chase

Attorney Steven Cohen (left) formed his own firm in Farmington Hills 15 years ago after stays with two other well-known Detroit area firms. A mosque in Dearborn (right), one of the oldest in North America, is represented by the law offices of Steven Cohen, whose Jewish upbringing instilled in him the importance of faith and understanding.

By Debra Talcott
Legal News

A second-generation Jewish American, attorney Steven G. Cohen was raised to embrace diversity — even before the term itself became widely used.

He now puts those childhood lessons into practice in his professional life as general counsel for the American Moslem Society in Dearborn, the oldest and most attended mosque in Michigan.

Cohen began representing the American Moslem Society (which retains the original spelling) in 1999, a few years after establishing his firm, Cohen and Associates, P.C. 

It was his friend, Troy immigration attorney Sher M. Akhtar, who had referred one of the mosque’s litigation matters to Cohen’s office.

Since then, Cohen has assisted the mosque with real estate and business transactions as well as business-related lawsuits.

“I have very much cherished and enjoyed my long relationship with the mosque,” says Cohen. “For reasons I cannot quite fathom, they treat me almost like royalty. A few years back the mosque celebrated the opening of a new wing of their building with a special dinner event.

“Incredibly, they seated me at a group of tables, which included a governor, a mayor, a senator, and a congressman — as well as other folks who outranked me by a mile. This kind of honor is indicative of the generosity of spirit that exists within the mosque’s membership and leadership.”

It was Cohen’s parents who instilled in him a tolerance for other races and cultures, and he says his work for the mosque has taught him much about the Moslem faith and the people who follow it.

“Like many immigrants from the ‘old country’ the first and second generation members of the mosque came to America for freedom and opportunity,” Cohen said. “The leadership of the mosque, that I have come to know very well, maintain strong ties to their Moslem faith, their unique culture, and their community while practicing a fervently democratic and self-reliant
Americanism that would have made my grandmother proud.”

The grandmother to which Cohen refers is one of his four grandparents who were born and raised in what was known as the “pale of settlement” area for containing Jewish families near the Poland-Russia border.

He grew up hearing the stories of how his family had suffered greatly from the anti-Semitism that was rampant in the first half of the 20th century.

Knowing what had happened to members of his own family led to his early development of a sense of right and wrong and what constitutes fairness — qualities that most attorneys share.

“My grandmother came home at the age of 16 in 1916 to find that her father, the community’s rabbi, had been killed in a pogrom,” explains Cohen. “Shortly thereafter, she came to America (via Argentina) and eventually brought all of her five brothers and sisters and her mother to the States. All cultures have encountered ethnic repression at one time or another, and Jewish persons, sadly, have had a long and difficult history with this.”

Cohen graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in mechanical engineering. His first hint that a career in the law might be the path he would eventually pursue came during his senior year while taking a patent law class.

“I found that class extremely interesting, and it sparked a desire to attend law school. However, I did not start immediately. I worked for General Motors as a project engineer for about six years before I decided to attend law school on a full-time basis,” says Cohen.

After graduating from Wayne State University Law School in 1993, Cohen worked as a patent lawyer for Brooks Kushman in Southfield.

He went on to work as a municipal bond lawyer with Miller Canfield Paddock & Stone in Detroit before hanging out his own shingle as a general business lawyer.

For the last 15 years, Cohen has been the principal attorney with his Farmington Hills firm. He specializes in business litigation and transactions, real estate, estate planning, intellectual property, and probate cases.

“I benefitted from the training and experience with those firms, but as the principal of my own firm, I obviously have a greater degree of autonomy and discretion over the types of cases I take on,” Cohen says. “I also have an opportunity to work with a
diverse range of clients who have a wide variety of legal challenges.”

Cohen is married to Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Resnick Cohen, who served as co-prosecutor in the Edward May Ponzi scheme case earlier this year. 

The couple met in law school and have fond memories of sharing a locker and a study cubicle.

Now finding themselves with two busy careers and two young children, the Cohens lead very active lives, yet they take time to support community causes.

“I have a special connection to several Jewish community causes,” says Cohen. “However, my wife and I are involved in non-Jewish community causes as well. And my work with the mosque does not conflict in any way with my attachment to the Jewish community; in fact, I feel that my involvement with the mosque gives me a unique perspective and an opportunity to serve, in a small way, as a bridge between the two cultures.”

Cohen notes that most of the voluminous statutes and cases that comprise the law are nothing more than an expansion on the Golden Rule and our rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

“The law is the ultimate bridge between people and communities of differing cultures because it is supposed to be applied in a nondiscriminatory way — ’blind’ to the identity, race, or culture of the persons involved,” says Cohen, who hopes his own children will continue the tradition of the way he was raised to view what constitutes fair treatment of all.

“I hope my children will embrace and be supportive of those fundamentals and of other cultures when they get older. Right now, they sometimes have trouble sharing their toys.”

Cohen appreciates that his decision to pursue a career in the law means that each new day affords opportunities to meet interesting people and deal with a variety of challenges.

“Making the choice to become an attorney was the right one for me.  However, like most lawyers I know, I’d like to say that if I had not made a career in law, I would have been a rich and famous author like John Grisham,” he says with a smile.

When asked to project his life 10 years into the future, Cohen maintains that sense of humor.

“My children will be teenagers. They will not listen to me or acknowledge me in the presence of their friends.  But they will be menshcen—good people. My wife will discover that she is married to a 60-year-old man and wonder how that happened—but she’ll be around.”