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Law School Alumni Q&A: Michael Rispin ’13, Corporate Counsel at Harley-Davidson

When Harley-Davidson recently decided to shift some of its motorcycle production to Europe, New England Law | Boston alumnus Michael Rispin was on the front lines, providing legal guidance and ensuring the organization’s newest strategic growth plan complied with Wall Street regulations. Keep reading to learn more about his path in business law and compliance.

Q: During your time at New England Law, you worked as an investigative paralegal for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Describe how you balanced your legal education with a demanding career.

A: I worked in the SEC’s enforcement division, where I assisted in litigation and dipped my toes in some federal court cases, serving as an investigative witness and questioning securities fraud suspects. One of my professors at New England Law, David London, worked as the senior counsel in the SEC’s Market Abuse Unit, so I also participated in some of his investigations. The learning curve is steep in securities law, so it was exciting to master legal theories in an academic environment, then work alongside my professor to apply my knowledge in a professional setting. I like to say my experience as a paralegal ignited my interest in securities law, and New England Law provided me with the knowledge and opportunity to become an attorney.

Q: How did your background in securities influence your professional trajectory?

A: After graduation, I was hired as the corporate and securities counsel by Tecogen, a manufacturer of clean-energy generators. They were in the midst of going public, and since my responsibilities at the SEC involved analyzing the filings of IPOs and public companies, I had the necessary knowledge to ensure their smooth transition into the public market. I also negotiated a variety of corporate contracts, including international joint venture agreements. These experiences paved the way for my current position at Harley-Davidson, where I manage SEC disclosure, corporate governance, and a variety of commercial contracts, including software—as well as any litigation arising from these areas.

Q: What are the most exciting projects you’ve worked on at Harley-Davidson thus far?

A: Harley-Davidson issued a disclosure this June related to retaliatory tariffs placed on the company’s motorcycles sold in Europe. I worked with Harley-Davidson’s leadership to disclose the effects of these tariffs on our business in a way that reflected positively on our company and complied with SEC regulations. It was a unique situation that was widely reported—the entire world was watching what I was writing.

The company recently announced its accelerated growth plan, More Roads to Harley-Davidson, outlining a strategy to expedite international growth and manufacture innovative new motorcycles—two of which were featured in the Marvel films The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I ensured the announcement and its accompanying documentation complied with Wall Street regulations and worked to mitigate risk.

Currently, I’m managing two complex tax cases that have reached the highest court in their respective states, and which could potentially result in new laws. The first case involves a constitutional challenge to California’s corporate income tax filing requirements, and the second is related to how property taxes are calculated in York County, Pennsylvania. Multiple legal journals have covered the proceedings.

All these projects represent a unique culmination of my education and professional experience, and rely on my knowledge of the legal landscape and ability to translate that specialized expertise for a broader audience.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: I’m passionate about helping businesses advance their mission, but I also make sure I volunteer my time and knowledge to help people, too. When I lived in Boston, I did pro bono work for the Women's Bar Association of Massachusetts, where I advocated on behalf of domestic abuse victims. I hope to eventually supplement my legal work at Harley-Davidson with pro bono services here in the Milwaukee area.

Learn more about our certificate program in compliance.