Revolutionary Road

Cab driver, law partner, and tech entrepreneur Steven Lofchie ’79 took a few turns on his route to success.

Steven Lofchie ’79

When he graduated high school in Boston, Steven Lofchie ’79 had an enviable choice: Harvard or Stanford. He chose Stanford, but rather than take a conventional or convenient way to get there, he spent the summer before college hitchhiking across the country. Arriving in California, he soon discovered that it didn’t suit him, so he ventured to Stanford’s campus in England his sophomore year. When that didn’t prove to be a fit either, he traveled through Europe and North Africa before returning to Boston to support himself as a cab driver, a job that seemed a good match for his personality. “There’s kind of a loner element to it,” he says. “I wasn’t social enough to hold a job as a waiter.” Then, when he was 19, he made his way to Sarah Lawrence.

Taking a rather circuitous route from cross-country hitchhiker and cab driver to partner at one of America’s oldest law firms, Lofchie is now a silver-haired lawyer with Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, where he works in a corner office 31 stories above Lower Manhattan, with floor-to-ceiling windows framing the Hudson River over his right shoulder and One World Trade Center over his left. Co-chair of the firm’s financial services group, Lofchie spends his days advising Wall Street firms how to navigate the voluminous, arcane laws and regulations meant to keep them in line.

“It was Frank Roosevelt, my econ professor at Sarah Lawrence, who really set me on a path,” Lofchie says. “Under his direction, I read everything from Karl Marx to Adam Smith and Joseph Schumpeter. While Roosevelt was firmly in the Marx camp, he really allowed me the freedom to formulate my own views of the world, which were more attuned to Smith and Schumpeter.”

“One of the things I have learned is that I’m not very good at shaping myself to please the world. That’s why I really loved Sarah Lawrence.”

In a literature class with Dale Harris, Lofchie had also read Thomas Mann’s Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man, and had been struck by the sentence: He who really loves the world shapes himself to please it. “That was a very appealing line,” he says. “I thought, well, the world wants MBAs, so I’ll do that.”

He completed his studies and landed a job in banking, but the work didn’t captivate him, so he began to rethink that once-appealing line of Mann’s. “One of the things I have learned,” Lofchie says, “is that I’m not very good at shaping myself to please the world. That’s why I really loved Sarah Lawrence. The school gave me the resources, but it didn’t force me in any direction. It let me find my own way.”

His fiancée, Sarah Fox (now his wife of almost 30 years), observing what she considered Lofchie’s “very difficult” nature, suggested he might make a good lawyer. At 29, Lofchie entered Yale Law School and found the study engaging. “I was able to take the theoretical economics that I had studied in college and see how it was applied in very specific practical situations, either where the legislature was attempting to make rules to govern how society should work, or else where people disagreed about how those rules should be interpreted,” Lofchie explains.

Lofchie says he “must have driven down Seventh Avenue about 10,000 times” in his cab-driving days. Now he works high above the streets in the World Financial Center complex.In his first year at Cleary Gottlieb, a partner who was being transferred to Japan asked Lofchie to write some chapters for a book on securities regulation the firm had agreed to produce. Although he “knew nothing” about the topic at the time, Lofchie ended up as the lead (albeit anonymous) author of three chapters of U.S. Regulation of the International Securities and Derivatives Markets. “That was really what started my professional career in the direction it’s followed since,” Lofchie says, “this mix of academics and how rules came to be the way they are, combined with reality and how the rules really work, or don’t, in practice.”

At his next job, at Davis Polk & Wardwell, Lofchie resolved to write his own book, building on work he’d been doing for five or six years. “By now, I was a genuine expert,” he says. Today that text, Lofchie’s Guide to Broker-Dealer Regulation, is widely regarded as the industry standard. “What I find interesting is the way people interact, the way society works, the way markets work, the way they should work,” he notes.

Ever the independent thinker, Lofchie then made another independent move, becoming the first partner ever to leave Davis Polk for another law firm. He took on the challenge of heading the financial regulatory practice at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, which has given him the freedom to chart his own course and develop new ways to practice law.

Creator of the Cadwalader Cabinet, Lofchie has organized all the pertinent rules, case law, and industry news, as well as his own writings and those of others, into a single, electronic, game-changing resource. With an extensive technology update launched earlier this year, it’s now a fluidly interactive and award-winning digital library for lawyers, compliance officers, and others at banks, brokerage firms, and hedge funds.

“The legal industry in general is not very innovative,” says Dayan Li ’17, who interned in Lofchie’s office this summer doing development work on the Cabinet. “The R&D is pretty low. But Steve’s trying to do something new.”

Lofchie has mentored several Sarah Lawrence student interns, including senior Dayan Li ’17.Bloomberg Law calls Lofchie’s brainchild an “ambitious dashboard.” This innovative tool meets an urgent need, helping users navigate the potentially treacherous regulatory landscape where compliance is complicated and stakes are high. Missteps can lead the government to impose fines totaling hundreds of millions of dollars—“sometimes with cause and sometimes without cause,” Lofchie says.

Writing for the Cabinet, Lofchie says he also gets to indulge his impulse to be a “difficult person” when it comes to what he regards as bad public policy. As part of the Cabinet, he edits a daily newsletter that goes out to more than 15,000 subscribers. His readers include regulators, academics, congressional staff, and those in private industry.

The satisfaction Lofchie gets from his work can be infectious. Paige Tucker ’16, one of several Sarah Lawrence students who have interned with Lofchie, says she went into the work last year “completely blind” but “completely fell in love with securities regulation.” Now she plans to pursue corporate law at Wake Forest University. A big part of the appeal, she says, was being in an office “charged with a sense of leaders who really dominated the industry, namely Steve.”

Lofchie is equally enthusiastic about Tucker and other Sarah Lawrence interns he’s hired in recent years. “Just a great bunch—enthusiastic, smart, curious, independent thinkers, self-confident,” he says. “Working with them has really made vivid how much I appreciate the College.”