Arnold J. Kohn
Executive General Counsel
The Towers Companies
In a time when attorneys change jobs with increasing frequency, Arnold J. Kohn has been with the same company since 1984, pursuing ways to do his job better in an ever-changing industry.
Kohn is executive general counsel of The Tower Companies, a family-owned real estate firm that embraced “green” building early. “Our company has been at the forefront of commercial real estate developers in the D.C. metro area as far as environmental sustainability is concerned,” Kohn said, with evident pride, noting that the company’s headquarters in Rockville “was the first LEED Platinum multi-tenanted office building in the area.”
With environmental sustainability a high priority for his company, Kohn became an LEED Accredited Professional. “I am always looking for ways in which I can be more valuable to the company and increase my knowledge,” he said. “LEED qualification was a good opportunity to do both.”
Kohn said the company is renovating all of its office and apartment buildings in Montgomery County and the District of Columbia to qualify for the LEED-Existing Building Standard. The Tower Companies are carbon-neutral and have installed electric vehicle charging stations in many of its buildings — “a small step, but we want to be leaders, not followers,” he said.
He focuses on commercial real estate, federal and state taxation, and land-use planning. Another attorney, who also is LEED accredited, was hired to handle commercial leasing. “I am close to the principals and involved in most business decisions,” Kohn said.
This wasn’t Kohn’s first job. After law school he served as a U.S. Navy judge advocate for three years, working in the Promotions and Retirements Branch and the General Tax Branch. “A judge advocate is often on his own and has to make decisions himself ‘on the fly,’” he said of the experience.
“The Uniform Code of Military Justice is a completely different criminal code from what one learns in a law school criminal law course. And a large private practice is much more structured and regimented than the work of a typical judge advocate working on his own on a ship or a remote military base,” Kohn said.
His next position was with a law firm, Arent Fox, in Washington, D.C. He spent 12 years there, including seven as a partner, focusing on real estate transactions, partnership and limited liability company representation and general corporate matters. While the specific experience was useful for where his career has gone, “Really, a lawyer’s most important skill is his ability to think and reason, coupled with his ability to read, comprehend what he has read, and write,” Kohn said.
Kohn then spent several years in private practice, first with another lawyer and later by himself. “When I left private practice, it was at the invitation of an important client to ‘come in house’ and work exclusively for them.”
That was The Towers Companies, 28 years ago.
Being “in house” differs from being with a firm or a solo practice because “I have only one client, although there are three principals in the company and each one demands very prompt attention to assigned tasks,” Kohn said. “Still, a lawyer in private practice often has to juggle many demanding clients simultaneously.”
“Another significant difference is the opportunity to participate in decision-making, since I don’t charge my company by the hour; and any legal cost-cutting efforts by my client don’t include me since my time is paid for in full by my salary.”
In theory, private practice offers the advantage of “a certain amount of independence,” Kohn said. “If a lawyer in private practice disagrees with his client for any reason, he is free to ‘fire’ that client and still keep his job.” Of course, “cutting loose from a major client can involve substantial financial cost and may often be difficult for that reason,” he said.
Kohn, being a veteran of the real estate industry, keeps an eye on the economy. “I’m a business/transactional lawyer; when business is slow, it is a cause for concern,” he said.
“But I expect that’s true of every lawyer and every businessman.”
Arnold J. Kohn
Education: A.B., Duke University, 1962; J.D., Duke Law School, 1964; LL.M. (in Taxation), 1965.
Resides in: Potomac, Md.
Daily commute: 5 minutes (1.5 miles)
Most recent vacation: Trip to Scotland, several years ago.
Favorite book: “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville
Most recently read: “My Nine Lives: A Memoir of Many Careers in Music” by Leon Fleisher with Anne Midgette
Hobbies: Reading, learning about computers and computer systems
Favorite quotation: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed” — Deuteronomy 30:19
What I like best about my current position: Opportunity to meet and work with a variety of people, changing faces, making a difference in the community and business.
Most rewarding extracurricular activity: Board Member, Immediate Past Chair, Montgomery Hospice.
Local hero: Ann Mitchell, President and CEO, Montgomery Hospice.