Host Sean Harris talks with Jeff B. Cohen, a California attorney and former child actor best remembered for his role as Chunk in The Goonies, about what it takes to be an effective dealmaker.
Sean: Hello and welcome to Civilly Speaking, OAJ’s monthly podcast on practical and timely legal issues, I’m your host Sean Harris. Our guest today is Jeff Cohen, Jeff is a partner at the Beverly Hills based law firm of Cohen & Gardner, LLP and our topic today is essential tools for business. Jeff Cohen thanks very much for joining us here on Civilly Speaking.
Jeff: Thanks Sean, thanks for having me.
Sean: Now, obviously you are an attorney now Jeff, but most folks probably recognize you from your childhood acting days, how did you get into acting in the first place?
Jeff: I was born in LA and I was a kid actor, back in the 80s when the world was young and I had hair and I was in a film called the Goonies that Spielberg produced and Richard Donner directed and I played the funny little fat kid Chunk in the Goonies.
Sean: You were Chunk!
Jeff: I was Chunk, it’s not easy, it’s not easy.
Sean: And so how did we get from Chunk to lawyer Jeff Cohen?
Jeff: You know although my initial path where I started was you know maybe different from some of your listeners, like I think similarly to your listeners we all became lawyers because a lack of another viable alternative, there was literally nothing else we were good at. You know medicine that seems hard, you got to cut people open, that’s pretty gross, an engineer who wants to do that, you got to be really good with math so law, you know, why not be a lawyer. Abe Lincoln he was cool, he was a lawyer. Also, I am an entertainment lawyer so I negotiate deals. What I found when I hit puberty and couldn’t get work as an actor and started to work on the other side of the business kind of on the studio side and the production side I found that lawyers kind of had a unique place in entertainment in representing talent, negotiating deals, structuring film finances, so that seemed like an intriguing place to be.
Sean: And when you say entertainment or transactional lawyer, tell us about that. What does that mean?
Jeff: Sure, basically I don’t have to audition, but I still get to go to the parties. So it’s kind of the best of all worlds.
Jeff: Basically entertainment, by entertainment I’m talking about music and literature and film and television and new media, video games, etc., etc. I am kind of using a broad definition of entertainment. There’s a number of documents underlying all of those deals from making sure the chain of title for intellectual property is clean from financing documents when people are financing an entertainment project to agreements for talent. If you’re an actor and you’re going to be in a television series, negotiating that deal or if you’re a director and you’ve also written a script that you want to direct kind of all of the deals surrounding that so it’s basically all of the deals surrounding the creation, financing and distribution of entertainment products for both corporations and also individuals.
Sean: Well and you recently wrote a book along these lines called ten essentials tools for business forged in the trenches of Hollywood.
Jeff: Yes, Dealmakers 10 commandments.
Sean: Tell us about that.
Jeff: On Amazon, check it out. It’s funny the American Bar Association came to me and they were like hey we want to do a book on entertainment, entertainment law and it was kind of cool they came to me, they wanted me to put something together. I had never written a book before, but I had been writing articles about business and politics and things like that and I’m a big fan of business books so I was like hey let me open it up and make it more of rules for business for structuring deals and managing crisis, kind of living life on your own terms and I pitched them the idea of the dealmakers ten commandments, ten essentials tools for business forged in the trenches of Hollywood and I kind of opened it up to like hey when you are dealing with crisis this is a methodology. When you’re analyzing a transaction no matter what the transaction is here’s kind of my checklist of what I go through so and also how do you fight monsters without becoming one right? So Nietzsche old question so kind of I got to open it up and make it more of a fun philosophical book.
Sean: Now do you believe that the president is following any of your commandments?
Jeff: Well Trump did write, well Trump’s book I should say…
Sean: He’s a dealmaker come on.
Jeff: is the Art of the Deal. The difference is I actually wrote my book.
Sean: I see.
Jeff: I wrote it so you know does he believe the art of the deal? I don’t know.
Jeff: He didn’t write the book. I wrote this so at least I can I can plant my flag and say I actually wrote what I believe.
Sean: And I’ve got the ten commandments here, let’s talk about some of them. I mean number one, you say it’s better to be feared than loved.
Jeff: Yes, and of course I stole that from the great Italian political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli in his book the Prince, which is kind of the book that I pattern my book after because reading that book was very important for me in kind of my intellectual development. My book in the beginning I have a kind of a warning, I say hey the ideas in this book are for business, they’re not for personal. You know what I mean? It’s pretty hard nosed and I found it to be very effective in one’s professional life, but in your personal life it’s certainly relationship killing.
Sean: It’s not a marriage handbook say.
Jeff: Not a marriage handbook. I start off with a quote, there’s a lot of quotes in the book and I start off with one “good and great are seldom the same man.” So that kind of leads into the first dealmakers commandment it’s better to be feared than loved. Machiavelli kind of goes through this analysis like hey if you’re a prince, if you’re a leader would you rather have your population love you or fear you and what he ultimately decides is that it’s almost impossible to be both simultaneously, but fear is something you can control. You can make sure people are afraid of you, but you can’t make people love you. People love kind of on their own accord, but they fear you by your actions. So for me when I am kind of looking at a business situation and when I’m kind of structuring a deal it’s like okay what are the mechanisms of fear as I negotiate this deal and again it sounds very hard nose, but I found that in our rough and tumbled business environment it’s been helpful.
Sean: And I’m skipping around here because I don’t want to give away everything from the book…
Jeff: Thank you.
Sean: but one of your rules says no pig wrestling.
Jeff: No pig wrestling, commandment number five. Yes, the dealmaker’s commandment five is no pig wrestling. Why? Because when you wrestle a pig you get dirty and the pig enjoys it. Combat is an honor; a knight doesn’t fight against a squire, a knight fights against another knight so you have to be very careful about who you engage in combat with. There has to be significant upside. I find that it’s usually better to fight somebody bigger than somebody smaller because if you fight somebody bigger and lose hey it’s okay you fought the chimp, if you win you’re a monster versus if you fight somebody whose smaller there’s risk without upside so for me pig wrestling is like okay what are battles that are appropriate to get into where there is an upside, where there is a sufficient angle for improvement because look, nothing in the human experience takes up more energy than combat whether it’s deal combat or real combat or there’s an actual war, nothings more expensive in blood in treasurer so when you get into a fight you have to be very, very careful about the fights your get into and thoughtful about that. So that’s what the no pig wrestling is about.
Sean: Now I also notice there’s, you emphasize the idea of time management, how does that integrate with the idea of being a dealmaker?
Jeff: Oh sure, I mean because as professionals whether we’re lawyers or doctors or engineers or business people for the most part our time is our commodity so if you waste your time you waste your life and if you can’t develop your own system where you are the boss of your time then you will be a slave to somebody else’s system. So my mechanism is do it, delete it, delegate it and I kind of go through it deeper in the book, but it’s like okay we’re getting all this information, we’re getting all this distraction, you have to be able to process that in a way where you can effectively dispatch because otherwise you’re dead. Everybody’s going to want to take your time away to do what’s important to them. There’s this analogy of people love to walk into your, you know I think this whether you’re a business person, a litigator, transactional lawyer, whatever, or just a human being, people love to walk into your office with whatever monkey is on their shoulder bugging them and they love to take that monkey off their shoulder and just stick it right there on your desk so now it’s your monkey and they just kind of moon walk out of there, just kind of get out of there so you have to be very careful of not taking other peoples monkeys, to be technical.
Sean: I was going to say if there’s a headline for this podcast it’s don’t take other people’s monkeys.
Jeff: It’s don’t wrestle pigs, don’t take monkeys, I’ve got the whole zoo, I’ve got the petting zoo, Cincinnati zoo, all the zoos, yeah.
Sean: And you were telling me beforehand by the way that you do have an Ohio connection?
Jeff: I do, that’s why I was really excited to talk to you. So I was born in LA, in the San Fernando Valley, but my mother was actually born in Cincinnati so and my sister whose a very talented writer, she’s on the show fuller house, as a writer she actually went to the University of Cincinnati so I have always been a Bengals fan and I’m still a Bengals fan.
Sean: God bless you.
Jeff: It’s brutal, man. It is brutal. It is not easy, but I am proud of Who Dey. I am still upset about the 88 Super Bowl that Esiason and Ickey lost. We should have won. You know I went to school in the bay area, the College of Berkley and so everybody loves their 49ers that always drove me nuts because the 49ers always beat them in the 80s, but hey man, I am a Bengals guy, I’m loyal to my guys.
Sean: Tell us about, for attorneys who want to become dealmakers or better dealmakers are there a top three kind of bite sized chunks recommendations you would have for them?
Jeff: Well, first of all the most important tip is buy my book, the Dealmakers 10 Commandments by Jeff Cohen, available on Amazon. We have the Kindle version, hard cover or also the audio book so if you like my voice I can actually read the entire lovely book for you.
Jeff: So of course number one, but the Dealmakers 10 Commandments. I would say tip number two is that success is life on your own terms. I think it’s very easy for us to kind of get overwhelmed by you know what everybody else wants and we’re pack animals. We want to help people, but there’s that idea that I don’t know the secret of success, but I know the secret of failure trying to make everyone else happy. So you really need that kind of be able to separate yourself from your boss, from your family, from church and ask yourself hey what matters to me, what do I really care about and kind of start from that as a nucleus. The third tip I would use Woody Allen’s line, 80% of success is showing up. You know like I don’t know what happens if I show up to the event or the networking event or the lunch with the potential client, but I do know what happens if I don’t show up. If I don’t show up nothing happens so as far as a big three of the top of my head that is what I would go with.
Sean: Well Jeff Cohen it has been a pleasure to meet you at least over the podcast like this, thanks very much for joining us here on Civilly Speaking.
Jeff: Thank you Sean. I’d like to say Who Dey, Bengals are going to do it this year, this is the year.
Sean: You heard it here first.
Jeff: You heard it here first, you heard it here on this podcast, Sean. Who Dey, coming back this is the year and thank you so much for helping me. I hope your listeners get a chance to check out my book, the Dealmakers 10 Commandments and I hope it helps them.