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Steven J. Reisman '90: The "$2 Bill Man" Pays it Forward

Monday, October 27, 2014

It's the underdog of United States currency that was first introduced in 1862. Shunned by many merchants, beloved by collectors of U.S. Bicentennial mementos, the $2 bill is making a comeback of sorts these days in the hands of hip hop stars, pop musicians, former presidents, and average citizens nationwide.

Quietly behind the scene of the resurgence is Steven J. Reisman '90.

About nine years ago, Reisman—who co-chairs the Restructuring and Insolvency Group as a partner at Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP—was in a NYC taxicab when the driver handed him a $2 bill in his change. According to Reisman, seeing the $2 bill made his day—he felt lucky. And that was his aha moment. "For some time, I'd been thinking about how fortunate I am in life with my family, friends, profession, etc. and how I wanted to give back to others in a way that I could see the immediate impact," Reisman says. "There's nothing better than making someone smile and making them feel special. So I got out of the cab and went straight to the bank, where I bought all the $2 bills they could spare."

Since then, Reisman has made a daily habit of giving away $2 bills. He gives them to people he meets, to clients, to friends, and even leaves them on subway seats and, as the intended recipient calls after him, he replies, "That's for you, for good luck and for good health!" He gives them to taxi drivers as he enters the cab, and he leaves them for servers in restaurants apart from the tip. And, as recently reported in Complex Magazine, he's an avid music fan who regularly hands the bills to entertainers like Jay Z, Drake, and fellow St. John's alumnus J. Cole.

While his organic acts of kindness have earned him the nickname "The $2 Bill Man" along with the social media spotlight and close relationships with celebrities, Reisman isn’t in it for the attention or for the business as he does not represent any of his friends in the music arena. Paying it forward is the payoff. "My hope is that if the $2 bill makes someone's day brighter, they'll pass it on by being nicer and brightening someone else's day and so on," he explains.

Reisman also traces his intentions back to his strong belief that "we are all the same." It's a perspective on privilege that comes from life experience. Growing up on Long Island, Reisman always had a job starting at 12 years old. That work ethic carried through his college years at SUNY Oneonta and to St. John's Law, where he excelled academically.

He found a law school mentor in Professor David L. Gregory, who suggested that he interview for a first year summer associate position at Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc. Reisman, who was up against candidates from Columbia, NYU, Brooklyn and Fordham, researched the company before the interview, but was sure that the offer would go to someone from an elite law school. Towards the end of a full day of interviews with the company’s entire legal department, he was asked by the last interviewer if he had any questions. He didn't, but when the interviewer pressed on, Reisman said that he had read the most recent 10K filing and wondered "why an insurance broker would be investing (and losing money) in interest rates futures." He was hired on the spot.

That same tenacity earned Reisman a summer associate position at Curtis the next year, which he parlayed into a job during his 3L year and into a first year associate position in the firm's "just started" bankruptcy practice. Even the most seasoned partners were surprised at how hard Reisman worked. "I put in 60 to 70-plus-hour weeks at Curtis in my third year of law school to pay for school" Reisman recalls, "and I've been at Curtis ever since."

At Curtis, Reisman makes a concerted effort to hire from St. John's. "I'd much rather hire someone who had a paper route or worked at McDonald's as a kid, worked their way through college, and then went to St. John's Law and excelled,” he says. “The combination of street smarts, hard work, and sound legal education is a significant advantage. That's the person who will continue to work hard for you, day and night. St. John's gave me the building blocks to succeed in the legal practice and I try to pay it forward every day."

So, if you happen to meet Reisman or are one of those people fortunate enough to receive a $2 bill from him, remember to smile and to pay it forward and, hopefully, the circle will grow because, as Reisman says, "The $2 bills are for good luck and good health—and good luck is the residue of hard work."