Professor Neil B. Cohen is well-known in the field of contracts and commercial law, having co-authored one of the leading contracts casebooks and written numerous law review articles on these subjects. Perhaps though, he is most widely regarded as an expert in his field because of his involvement in creating international contract and commercial law through several inter-governmental organizations.
Professor Cohen has served as a member of the delegation of the United States to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and two of its Working Groups with respect to the emerging international law of secured transactions. He has also served as the only American member of a Working Group of the Hague Conference on Private International Law charged with preparing choice of law principles for international commercial contracts, and participated in the preparation of the latest version of Principles of International Commercial Contracts by UNIDROIT (the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law/Institut International Pour L'unification Du Droit Prive), one of two surviving organs of the League of Nations. The goal of these organizations is to modernize and harmonize international law through treaties and conventions, model laws, and statements of principles, by developing fair, neutral principles for the governance of modern commercial transactions.
Most recently, Cohen was appointed by the UNIDROIT Secretariat to a commission of experts to prepare a legal guide relating to the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts. Also, he is one of two co-authors of Comparison and Analysis of Major Features of International Instruments Relating to Secured Transactions, a joint publication of UNCITRAL, UNIDROIT, and the Hague Conference that was published this spring by the United Nations.
Cohen has received much recognition from the United States government for his work in this area. Since 1995, the State Department has asked him to join the U.S. delegations to UNCITRAL's working groups charged with developing emerging principles of international secured transactions law. In addition, in 2009, he was named to the Secretary of State’s Advisory Committee on Private International Law. In this elite capacity, he has advised the State Department on a variety of international treaties and conventions relating to commercial law and contracts. The prestigious American Law Institute has also recognized Cohen’s work in this area, initially recommending him to the State Department for participation in the UNCITRAL Working Groups and later appointing him as the Institute’s observer for UNIDROIT’s work on international commercial contracts.
Cohen explains that, in an age of increasing internationalization of transactions, it is more important than ever to know what legal rules govern when there is a transaction between people or companies located in different countries. Establishing these ground rules helps to minimize uncertainty and bring stability to international transactions. Moreover, he adds, modernizing the law in this way is particularly helpful to developing countries because it enables people in those countries to gain the economic benefits of international trade.
Cohen has been a member of the faculty since 1979 and has taught commercial law since then. When talking to students about the law of international commercial transactions, he says that “because transactions don’t stop at national borders anymore, lawyers’ knowledge can’t stop at borders either; both in learning the law and developing it, we have to think internationally.”