There are hard-hitting lawyers and there are hard hitting lawyers. For Julie Cohen, a litigation partner at Skadden, Arps, the combat takes place both in the courtroom and in the ring. When Cohen isn’t busy fighting for her clients, she’s training as an A-Class Muay Thai fighter at her home gym, Five Points Academy, in New York City. Having taken up the sport just three years ago, Julie has gone from beginner to elite, fighting at prestigious tournaments and promotions around the country in the process. We sat down with Julie to learn more about how a full-time litigator at one of the nation's most demanding firms could also become one of the top female Muay Thai fighters in the country.
LITIGATOR BECOMES A CHAMPION FIGHTER
Julie Cohen is an accomplished attorney with over 11 years experience, working on complex litigation matters with millions (or billions) of dollars at stake. With all the mental demands of lawyering, she found herself looking for a physical outlet to release stress. As it turns out, she discovered that she enjoyed hitting bags with her trainer at the gym. So when the trainer suggested Muay Thai as a form of cross training, she decided to give it a shot.
Thai boxing or Muay Thai is similar to the American sport but with the added use of elbows, knees, and kicks. Where in western boxing you are limited to only punches, Thai boxing adds variables on top of variables. Fighters face more weapons of attacks and can explore more complex and creative ways to strike back.
When Julie brought her focus and athleticism (she played point guard for Yale) to Muay Thai, she began to see successes in the ring. Julie took her first belt at the US Muay Thai Open and recently won another at Warrior's Cup, a well known east coast promotion. She now regularly competes against the best amateurs in the United States.
[Julie after her latest win + belt at the Warriors Cup. Image by Pari Aryafar]
SUCCESS IN COMBAT REQUIRES SACRIFICE
Excellence may be its own reward, but it requires discipline and sacrifice. For Julie, the main sacrifice (apart from the bruises and the occasional cracked rib) has been sleep. Julie begins her day at 6 A.M. with a 4-5 mile run followed by over two hours of hitting bags, technique drills, or sparring. She then makes her way home for a quick breakfast before heading to her firm's offices in midtown. She usually tries to pack in a second round of training in the evening, clearing her mind before returning to important client matters at night. As for the precious REM cycle? Julie jokes that she’s content to save sleeping for the afterlife.
A FIGHTERS DIET IS NOT A GOURMET DIET
Nutrition, along with training, is crucial in transforming a body into a fighting fitness. When training for a big match-up, Julie’s dinner plate is more exclusive than the backstage of a concert. Goodbye bread. So long sugar. When in fight mode, she cuts back on almost everything except proteins, vegetables, and water. Fight prep makes no exceptions for alcohol. Julie shared how when she made partner (a huge milestone for a biglaw attorney), she was thrown a party to celebrate but chose not to enjoy the fine champagne that was flowing until after her upcoming fight.
FIGHTING AND LITIGATING GO HAND-IN-GLOVE
What could be a better metaphor for trial than Muay Thai? Two contenders step forward after months of prep but only one emerges victorious. Not only are the two similar in ethos, but according to Julie, fighting actually makes her a better lawyer. Julie describes the adrenaline rush before a trial and shares how the techniques she uses to calm her nerves at a fight have helped her master her mental game in the courtroom.
Do her law skills make her a better fighter? In our estimation, her many wins and championship belts just go to prove that the unique combination of brains, tenacity, and discipline that make Julie Cohen a formidable litigator have powered her success as a fighter. And if we needed any more proof, Julie was recently selected to the WKA US National Team to compete at the World Championships in Poland and the Asia-Pacific Championships in Thailand!
BEYOND THE LAW
TalksOnLaw’s “Beyond the Law” series highlights lawyers who achieve success both as lawyers and outside the law world. In a profession that requires intense commitment and focus, we salute the overachievers amongst us who find remarkable achievements beyond the law.