Michael A. COOPER
March 29, 1936 – November 16, 2020
On the evening of Monday, November 16, 2020 the world lost a remarkable man as Michael A. Cooper succumbed to COVID-19 at the age of 84. A partner at Sullivan and Cromwell for more than 35 years, during his long career Michael (Mike) also served as President of the American College of Trial Lawyers and of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. He was Chair of the Civil Rights Committee of the American Bar Association, Co-chair of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and President of the Legal Aid Society. He also initiated the Election Protection program of the Lawyers’ Committee in New York some 20 years ago. Martha Minow, former Dean of the Harvard Law School wrote: “Michael was always true North, integrity, judgement, public service, decency, I will remember great conversations and also lessons in leadership, caring and a life worth living.” And John Kiernan, of Volunteers of Legal Services, wrote: “Mike was one of the great lawyers and great friends of his generation. I never heard him express an opinion that wasn’t wise, balanced, thoughtful, fair and persuasive. His intellect was searing, his judgement was spot on, his energy was relentless, his solicitude for the helpless was heartfelt and his intolerance for injustice was inspiring.” A long-time resident of Manhattan, Mike was born in Passaic, New Jersey on March 29, 1936 to Otto and Beatrice (Lentz) Cooper. An only child, he remembered living with his parents and his grandmother, in a 14-foot wide house. That relatively confined space may have contributed to his later love of open spaces and adventurous travel. Mike’s father served as both role model and inspiration for him. Otto Cooper graduated law school at just 19 and went on to run a successful solo practice serving family-run businesses in West New York and then Union City. In An Advocate’s Journey , the legal memoir Mike published in 2016, he particularly noted his father’s ‘generosity to the poor and downtrodden,’ both professional and personal. This generosity formed a core of Mike’s own person and practice. Wanting to give him the best education possible, Mike’s parents sent him to Horace Mann School (’53), where he was described in his yearbook as ‘one of the outstanding members of his class.’ As an undergraduate at Harvard, Mike studied both American History and Literature, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 1957. Mike’s lifelong affiliation with Harvard Law School began that same year. Upon graduating, he maintained close ties with and a deep love for both the institution and his classmates, attending every quinquennial reunion, actively raising funds, and taking great pride in serving as a member of the Visiting Committee for six years. He was recognized with Harvard Law School’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. In 1960, Mike joined Sullivan & Cromwell where he remained a litigator for his entire legal career, becoming a partner in 1968 and managing partner of the Litigation Group from 1978 to 1985. As the manager of that Group, he mentored younger lawyers, sending many to the National Institute for Trial Advocacy to improve their litigating skills. Mike coordinated the firm’s extensive pro bono activities, and the firm still gives an annual award for pro bono law in his name. He officially retired at the mandated age in 2003, but remained Of Council as active practitioner, going to the office whenever possible, even in the final weeks of his life. Mike’s first memorable case at Sullivan & Cromwell involved the acquisition of land to build the World Trade Center, and he continued his dedicated litigation work, all the while increasing his activities in advocating for civil rights, inclusion, and legal services for the poor. His strength of character and vision for a just society permeated all he did. In South Carolina v. United States (2012), Mike’s team fought against the disenfranchisement of Black voters by a new voter ID law. He was also deeply gratified to help secure the release from Guantanamo Bay of a Tunisian Muslim detainee who had been held without charges or evidence. The effort took nine long years of dedication and conviction, and Mike went to visit him after his release. But Mike had many interests besides the law, and his family was primary among them. In 1962 he married Ann Eisenberg in New York, and subsequently moved to Short Hills, New Jersey, where they raised their three children. A few years after the end of their 25-year marriage, Mike met his love, Nan Rothschild, whom he married in 1994. With an adventurous spirit, Mike and his family travelled as far as Peru, China, Morocco, Alaska, Egypt and Botswana, but Mike equally loved quiet family time at his and Nan’s homes in North Salem, NY and on Martha’s Vineyard. With a great love of animals, Mike was often at his happiest with his dog at the beach or riding horseback on trails. A passionate supporter of the arts, Mike loved the ballet and served as a member of the Board of Directors of the New York City Ballet for 18 years. He was also an enthusiastic collector of antique maps as well as fine modern prints and sculpture, and enjoyed a good game of tennis. He had a wonderful soul as well as a great mind. Mike is survived by his loving wife, Nan, his children of whom he was so proud, Jeffrey, Sarah Williams (Martin) and Paul (Pang), and beloved stepchildren Oliver Rothschild (Tara) and Emily Rothschild (Joshua Beauregard) as well as ten grandchildren: Emma, Joshua, Noah, Samantha, Pailin, Otto, Simon, William, Elinor and Cordelia. Although kept apart in recent months, Mike was grateful for family gatherings, even on Zoom. He will be missed greatly by them all. A remote memorial service will be held in future. In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution to Volunteers of Legal Services or the Adult Polyglucosan Body Disease Research Foundation.