When Bernie Nash ’66 moved to Washington, D.C., from New York after law school to work for the Securities and Exchange Commission, he planned to work for a few years and then move back home to continue his career. He never imagined spending 50 years practicing in D.C., and certainly couldn’t predict that after empowering state attorneys general to file major lawsuits he would later defend clients in battles against those very A.G.s.
Nash is cochair of Cozen O’Connor’s State A.G. Practice in Washington, D.C. He has litigated or settled billion-dollar cases in all 50 states, argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, and worked on multibillion-dollar mergers. His illustrious legal career began, perhaps surprisingly, with a degree in accounting.
Nash admitted that he wasn’t the most dedicated student in college, but all that changed when he came to Brooklyn Law School, where he served as associate editor of the Brooklyn Law Review, earned several scholarships, and graduated second in his class. With a J.D. in hand, he headed for the nation’s capital. “I wanted a job that was more focused on policy, where the law was vague and I had to apply it to complex facts,” he said.
At the SEC, Nash worked on applying antitrust laws and principles to the securities, electric, and gas utility industries, including Pennzoils’ acquisition of United Gas in 1968. As Congress considered deregulating traditionally regulated industries such as securities, trucking, railroads, airlines, and electric and gas utilities, representatives began calling to pick his brain. “Here was this kid from Delancey Street being called by the House and Senate,” he said. “It was one of the biggest thrills for me.” He was soon offered the position of assistant counsel to the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee in 1971 and remained in that position until 1977. He also assisted his boss, Sen. Philip Hart of Michigan, with his work on the committee investigating the Watergate scandal.
Nash is best known for drafting the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Act of 1976. The statute gave state attorneys the authority to file federal antitrust lawsuits, and gave the Department of Justice Antitrust Division authority to subpoena in civil antitrust investigations.
Nash left government work and founded his own firm, Nash, Railsback & Plesser, in 1977. The firm focused primarily on lobbying, until the early 1980s when David Boies, then at Cravath, involved Nash in his work for HBO, which wanted to fight five major movie companies’ plan to freeze it out of showing blockbuster movies. Nash and Boies worked with a number of state A.G.s to secure a preliminary injunction, and the settlement that followed launched Nash back into the world of A.G. law.
In his more than 30 years working with state A.G.s, Nash says the biggest change has been to their image and influence. “In the 1980s, A.G.s were not well known to be significant enforcers of federal law,” he said. “Now they are in the headlines every day.”
Nash said he hasn’t lost any enthusiasm for his work, savoring the opportunity to craft creative strategies for a wide variety of high-profile clients, including Pfizer, AT&T, Intuit, Prudential, MasterCard, and Barclays Bank, as well as influence policy.
— Kaitlin Ugolik Phillips