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Law360 (November 19, 2020, 9:35 PM EST) -- Colleagues remember Michael Cooper, a longtime Sullivan & Cromwell LLP attorney and former president of the New York City Bar Association who died of COVID-19 this week at age 84, as a sharp litigator and dedicated proponent of public service.
Cooper, who was a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell from 1968 until 2003 and was still of counsel at the firm when he died, chaired the firm's litigation group from 1978 to 1985. He was also active in many organizations in the New York City legal community, including the City Bar, New York State's Lawyers Assistance Program and the Harvard Law School Association of New York City.
He also had a hand in creating the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice and the City Bar Justice Center.
"Michael Cooper's contributions to the legal community, during a lifetime committed to public service, are almost too numerous to catalogue," the City Bar said in a statement to Law360 on Thursday. "We will greatly miss his warm and genial spirit."
David Braff, a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell who started at the firm while Cooper was the chair of the litigation group and worked closely with him for years, said that he was a talented and "hard hitting" litigator.
"He practiced law with a kind of intensity and intellectual strength that is very rare to see," he said. "He was an amazing litigator."
Cooper also brought that same focus and dedication to his work in the community, Braff said.
"He was such a dedicated practitioner that when he was involved in an organization, he was all in," he said. "He did everything with an unmatched intensity. Every organization he was involved in got the benefit of that."
Evan Davis, an attorney at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP who succeeded Cooper as president of the City Bar in 2000, echoed this idea, saying that Cooper created lasting change in the legal community.
As an example, he remembered a conference on international pro bono work that Cooper organized that was held shortly before his two-year term as City Bar president ended.
"People came from all over the world," he said. "It was the kind of conference that sparked permanent change. … It was an important way for New York to show leadership in spreading the idea of pro bono on an international basis."
Later, the two traveled together to South Africa as part of a program working to help integrate Black attorneys in to the South African bar after the end of apartheid, and he remembers Cooper as an excellent and upbeat travel companion who was genuinely interested in the people he met during the trip.
Even in his later years, he took his commitments seriously, Davis said.
"He always showed up," Davis said. "He was on a number of boards, and there are a lot of people on a number of boards who don't show up to the board meetings. But in my experience Michael always showed up — and not only showed up but was prepared for the meeting."
Braff said that he expects Cooper's legacy to live on in the New York legal community, and that he will be remembered as someone who led by example.
"He was the embodiment of the tradition of Sullivan & Cromwell, which was a deep and dedicated commitment to public service," he said. "I think he'll be remembered as the consummate practitioner with community service as one of his principle core values."
--Editing by Michael Watanabe.
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