To explain how Miriam Cohen got her start in commercial finance law, we first have to look at why she began down the legal path itself. As an undergraduate at Brooklyn College, Cohen was initially an accounting major. Part of her coursework required her to take a class on business law. In the class, she learned how the legal profession wasn’t just what they showed on television in criminal dramas, sparking an interest that led her to shift her career plan.
“I loved how you took the law and made it work in a business sense. It wasn’t just going to trial and fighting in court,” Cohen says. “It was so much more. It brought it to the forefront for me.”
After graduating from Brooklyn College, Cohen went on to attend law school at Boston University, where she was the articles editor for The Probate Law Journal. Along the way, she had summer jobs at the American Arbitration Association and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston.
When it came time to turn her education into a career, Cohen made sure she picked a firm and a position that fit her interests, which isn’t always afforded to every new lawyer.
“The whole point of what I loved was the business aspect of it,” Cohen says. “When you start to look for a job, some firms just want to rotate young associates through different departments until the lawyers figure out what they want to do, but a firm’s main priority is placing you where they need you.”
Finding a Path
During her job search, Cohen met with Hahn & Hessen, which laid out a position representing asset-based lenders and other secured finance companies. Although secured lending and ABL were new to her (“I was like a deer in headlights,” Cohen says), she took the role because it fit with her vision.
“I took the position because I was guaranteed that I would be on the business side of transactions, whether it be bankruptcy, litigation or corporate.” Cohen says.
While ABL was a means to the end of working in business finance law, as Cohen became more familiar with the industry, she became more invested in it.
“I realized every transaction was different. In order to be a good lawyer in this space, you need to understand what role you play,” Cohen says. “Are you representing the lender? Are you representing the borrower? What kind of transaction is it? Is it true ABL? Is it cash flow? Is it secured? Is it unsecured?”
Cohen worked at Hahn & Hessen and became one of the first women to become partner in the firm’s history. When she did eventually leave Hahn & Hessen, she didn’t leave ABL behind, joining Loeb & Loeb 17 years ago and rising to become a partner in the firm focused on commercial finance.
Just as Cohen’s career has changed, so has the ABL industry, particularly with its increased speed and a shift toward more intellectual property and brand-driven forms of lending in the United States as more manufacturing has gone overseas. However, as much as she’s been forced to adapt to an evolving landscape, Cohen still feels that the fundamentals of the ‘unique’ ABL product remain.
“It’ll always been a relationship business. People have to trust who they’re working with, especially in ABL because it’s about trusting your borrower in determining availability,” Cohen says.
Blazing a Trail
Just as she did when she chose to alter her career trajectory, Cohen has charted her own course in the industry and it’s left a path toward success for those behind her, especially women in the commercial finance industry, something that remains particularly important to her.
“Women need to support women and women need to take other women and mentor them. They need to provide business to these women because as women, if we don’t support other women, it’s just not going to grow,” Cohen says. “I’m very proud of the fact that ABL now has a lot more women involved and I think that growth needs to continue.”
Cohen has also made an impact internationally through her work with the Export-Import Bank of the United States, as she helped it create its existing working capital guarantee program. This initiative, while not a money-making endeavor for Cohen or her firm, helped create a more favorable framework for lending on foreign receivables . Cohen succeeded where others had failed before because she understood the intricacies of ABL and could craft provisions to ensure the program would be attractive to secured lenders, as the program provides additional borrowing base availability and guaranteed repayment on 90% of receivables.
Just understanding the mechanics of ABL isn’t all that makes Cohen a standout in her field. She has also found success by being responsive, understanding credit, effectively planning exit strategies in advance and, most importantly, listening to and understanding the perspectives of each party in a transaction.
“I try to understand it from a lender’s perspective and the borrower’s perspective and I think that makes me more of an effective lawyer because I understand where both sides are coming from,” Cohen says. “I’m not afraid to tell them my view. I understand their business and it makes it so much easier to be able to give advice when you understand what’s going on.”
With such an effective arsenal of skills at her disposal, Cohen has been a trailblazer when it comes to unique lending models, including lending against IP and to non-traditional industries for ABL like cannabis, music and even performing arts.
Guiding the Way
After 36 years in commercial finance law, Cohen, who was named the 2022 Women’s Division Executive of the Year by the New York Institute of Credit, has the varied experience that makes her an ideal teacher for the next generation, a responsibility she takes to heart. Cohen provides mentorship to younger colleagues, is active in Loeb & Loeb’s internal women’s group and plays a role during the interview process when onboarding new hires.
“I’d like to keep teaching people because I think it’s really important that the next generation be trained,” Cohen says. “I really believe that you learn ABL by osmosis and you learn the legal side by osmosis. You have to listen to people’s analysis and a simple yes or no in an email doesn’t really cut it.”
Of all the lessons Cohen would like to impart to the next generation, the most important is understanding how crucial it is to be creative to solve a problem rather than letting it stop a deal in its tracks.
“I look at every transaction as a puzzle and you need to put the puzzle together to get to the end result that works for all parties,” Cohen says. “I hope my legacy is that I’ve made that effort to figure out a solution to the problem at hand. Instead of just saying, no, I’ve taken the other approach and asked what can we do to try to make this work.”