In Conversation with Noam Cohen of CGL
Describe your business in a few words?
CGL is a fully-distributed transactional law firm dedicated to providing clients exceptional, Big Law-quality legal services at competitive rates. Simultaneously, we deliver greater work/life balance to attorneys and staff.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
When I announced my pregnancy, colleagues constantly asked me whether I would be returning to work after becoming a mother. I was offended initially. Working is an integral part of who I am, so I felt like there was no way I would give up my career. But, once my daughter was born, I couldn’t fathom leaving her at home all day to work at an office. I knew I needed to find a different path.
My desire to continue growing my career while spending time with my children was the driving force behind CGL. Sharing this ‘inner secret’ with my co-founder Hannah, and discovering that she craved the same thing, gave us the courage we needed to get it started.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
After graduating from Berkeley Law School, I worked at a global 50 law firm, Goodwin, as a corporate associate in their Silicon Valley office. From there, I moved into a management position in business development for a technology company. This was the role I left to start CGL.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I certainly always had an entrepreneurial spirit. My career is full of examples of me walking head first into business situations that have been challenging, rewarding, and entirely outside my current experience. I worked hard to build a versatile skill set, appetite for risk, and ability to think laterally and creatively. With the benefit of hindsight, I was taking all the right steps to bring innovation to the legal industry with CGL. I just didn’t always recognize it at the time!
Also, my parents, both of whom immigrated to the U.S., are entrepreneurs. Their career paths and the autonomy they were able to maintain while raising a family was something I wanted to emulate.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
Amazingly, we had clients before we even opened our doors. I believe our business model really resonated with clients who craved something different from their attorneys. Our autonomous work culture also resonated with attorneys, who wanted to work with and for us.
Since then, we’ve worked really hard to develop our company brand, conveying both our personal stories and professional expertise. We recognized our limitations fairly early on and have worked with a talented team of marketers and content writers once we could afford to do so. Today, we focus heavily on LinkedIn content marketing, targeting and nourishing referral sources within and outside our industry, building up our social media presence and launching our podcast.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
Our biggest (and most terrifying) lesson to date is: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Early on, a partner of ours was sending us as much work as we could handle. We stopped actively looking for other clients and adapted our internal processes and workflows to cater to this one client. We thought we were doing quite well, until they went under. After taking a long look at how we got ourselves in this situation, we hustled. We learned that we’re better off serving a range of clients that seek us out because we meet their needs. The lesson was a blessing in disguise – we’ve grown threefold since!
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I’m proud that we were able to manifest what we wanted for ourselves: an autonomous, flexible place for lawyers and legal professionals to work in a way that makes sense for them. CGL challenges the status quo in the legal industry. That Hannah and I have been successful in building the workplace of our dreams makes me incredibly proud – and incredibly hopeful for the future!
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
We don’t have a go-to interview question for our candidates, but we do have one for ourselves.
We use the EOS – Entrepreneurial Operating System – in running our business, including during the hiring process. It is designed to get the right people in the right seats by using the following evaluation criteria: GWC (Get it, Want it, Capacity for it).
Does the candidate get it? – That is, do they grasp the ins and outs of the role, the company and what we are building.
Do they want it? – Do they really want the role and will they bring the necessary passion and dedication to succeed?
Do they have the capacity to do it? – This recognizes that experience comes with time, but the underlying skills need to be there.
We ask ourselves “are they an absolute yes to all of the above?”. If not, then it’s a no. There’s no grey area and no maybes.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
The legal industry as a whole has experienced growth throughout 2020. Some firms have been affected more than others, depending on their size, client base, and practice area(s). CGL has experienced significant growth throughout the year. Our revenue tripled and we grew from a team of 3 to 10. Our practice areas cover employment, privacy and data security, corporate governance, dispute resolution, and corporate and commercial transactions, amongst others. Generally, the services we provide are fairly business critical, so businesses will continue to invest in them – even during a downturn. That said, I believe our lean, agile business model has contributed to our growth. We’re able to offer our clients top notch services by talented attorneys and at competitive pricing, thanks to our distributed model. Businesses looking to reduce legal spending without sacrificing the quality of advice are turning to us.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
More growth so we can create more impact! Our mission to transform the legal industry and the nature of work grows stronger the bigger we get. We want our company culture to prove to the world that this model of legal practice works! In fact, we want to prove to the world that this business model works. To make that kind of impact, we need more clients, more employees, more partners, and more people discovering what we have to say.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
I’m constantly learning. When we started CGL, we Googled ‘how to start a law firm’. So, the learning curve for us has been huge from the beginning.
I would say the biggest lesson I learned in 2020 was to bring method to the madness of running a business. We implemented the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) at CGL last year. It has helped us define our roles, focus on our expertise, eliminate noise, and has proved to be truly transformative to the way we run our business.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
It has been difficult learning to manage expectations about what I’m doing for my business. I honestly never feel like I do enough – whatever that means! There’s always something else I could be doing. Learning to sit with that feeling has been more difficult than I would have imagined.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
Professionally, we work hard to focus on revenue alongside our mission and purpose, not at the cost of it. Everything we do for CGL aligns with our values of quality, autonomy, and humanity. We recognize our strengths and our limitations and we play to those – outsourcing early when we need to. I always like to say that we excel at hiring people much smarter and much more experienced than we are.
Personally, my family keeps me grounded every day. Seeing my small human growing and flourishing constantly reminds me of the value of humanity – and constantly humbles me. Time and time again, she shows me why I do what I do.
Yoga and meditation help, too.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
CGL was founded to bring work/life balance to the center of the conversation. We delegate work on the basis that our attorneys will accept the work they have time to do and will meet their deadlines. Outside of this, they’re free to do that work whenever, wherever, and however they choose.
If they work best in the morning, they’re free to get up and get it done first thing, then spend the rest of the day with their family, or snowboarding, or whatever they’re passionate about. Passionate, happy attorneys are engaged attorneys, in our experience. We want to foster their personal growth to promote professional excellence. In fact, we actually say our dedication to work/life balance is entirely selfish and serves our business and our clients!
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I would love to work in politics/government when I grow up! I’m incredibly passionate about getting more women into positions of power and influence. CGL is a part of that path for me. We’re working hard to challenge the status quo in the legal industry. But, my desire to do more is strong when it comes to normalizing female involvement at management and leadership levels, both in the private sector and in government.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
- Work during your most productive hours (and take naps if you need to!).
- Own your workload. Say yes to what you want to tackle and no when you need to.
- Know what to delegate and when to delegate it (hint: it’s as soon as you can afford to).
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
It gives me the space to rewrite my thinking about ‘failure’. Law is, traditionally, a fairly unforgiving place for failure. Having done everything ‘right’ to get myself through law school and work in BigLaw, failure was fairly foreign and absolutely terrifying. It’s amazing having space to examine and challenge my misconceptions about what being an entrepreneur means. It’s not about getting everything right out of the gate. It’s about learning, and growing, and aiding others all the while.