Goldberg Segalla has hired 107 lawyers in the past nine and a half months, said the man who should know, managing partner Richard Cohen.
He should know because Cohen interviews every new lawyer that joins the firm. In the past month alone, that’s 27 successful interviews. On Thursday, Goldberg Segalla announced the hires of eight lawyers for its less-than-a-year-old offices in Los Angeles and Orange County, California, as well as another eight for its outpost in New York.
All of which raises a practical question: How does Cohen, who views his role as the “gatekeeper” of a firm that compensates its partners based on a wide-ranging, 11-point “leadership criteria,” even find the time to do all this recruiting?
“Quite frankly, I’m not sure,” Cohen said. “When you don’t sleep much, you’ve got more hours in the day.”
Growth is not necessarily new for Goldberg Segalla, which focuses primarily on insurance defense work. Last year the firm, founded in Buffalo, New York, in 2001, broke into the Am Law Second Hundred, where it made its debut at No. 178 with $175 million in gross revenue. In just 17 years, a firm that started with seven lawyers, including Cohen, has grown to more than 400.
Cohen said he’s “quite sure” it’s the fastest any law firm in U.S. history has grown to 400 lawyers without a merger. This year, the largest “group” that Goldberg Segalla has hired from another firm consisted of four lawyers.
The firm’s California hires added to its insurance, labor and employment and management and professional liability practices. Those additions include Peter Woo, now vice chairman of the firm’s nationwide employment and labor practice group, and fellow partners Stephen Mazzara and David Choi. Woo and Mazarra came aboard from Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith. Choi joined from Collins Collins Muir + Stewart, along with three associates.
In New York, Goldberg Segalla added insurance coverage partners Marc Voses, Steven Nassi, Jeffrey Matty and Jared Greisman. Voses, Nassi and Matty were previously partners at Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck, while Greisman came from Fleischner Potash. The firm also hired workers’ compensation partner Asher Labendz from LeClairRyan alongside two associates.
Cohen said Goldberg Segalla’s fast growth has been a response to client demands. Its attractiveness to other partners, though, stems from a business model that Cohen said he and his partners learned from observing management mistakes at large law firms they previously worked at, such as Buffalo-based Saperston & Day, which merged in 2001 with Hiscock & Barclay. (Hiscock & Barclay is now known as Barclay Damon after another combination in 2015.)
“It’s extremely important that the team be more important than the individual,” Cohen said. “Both the firms that I spent time at were full of very, very talented lawyers but I didn’t think either firm had a philosophical or interpersonal alignment. And ultimately that is what does law firms in.”
Cohen said Goldberg Segalla manages for a team approach through, in part, its 11-point compensation system that takes into account more contributions to leadership than finding work and billing hours, which are themselves two points in the leadership criteria.
The criteria consist, Cohen said, of quality lawyering; general accountability; mentoring; growing the firm’s brand; “credentialing” themselves or the firm; and other aspects.
“I’m not going to remember all 11 by rote memory, but each will contribute something different,” Cohen said. “We don’t want 400 excellent trial lawyers who don’t do anything else. And we don’t want 400 business generators who don’t do anything else. The reality is people have a better chance of succeeding if they are doing things they’re good at and things they enjoy. And we’re all good at different things, so it is up to the leadership of this firm to recognize what everyone has in their abilities and put them in position to use those skills.”
Goldberg Segalla’s growth has come with some typical growing pains. Cohen said the firm’s Manhattan office, which now has about 150 lawyers, has changed office space four times in the past seven years. (Goldberg Segalla now has space near Grand Central Terminal.)
The firm has also been involved in a dispute with a group of six former partners led by Daniel Gerber who left Goldberg Segalla’s Buffalo headquarters in December 2017. The litigation between both parties was initially filed in upstate New York, but the contents of the dispute were largely sealed and the matter was quickly dismissed. Cohen said the dispute, which he said he could not provide specifics on, continues in private arbitration.
“The reality is that small group ultimately didn’t fit in, and believed that they preferred to exist in a different environment,” Cohen said. “I’ll wish them the very best.”
Looking ahead, Cohen said he expects Goldberg Segalla’s Los Angeles office, which opened in January, to ultimately become as large as its presence in New York. Cohen expects the office, one of two that the firm has in Southern California, to have about 60 lawyers by the end of 2019.
Cohen said lawyers continue to be attracted to Goldberg Segalla by an atmosphere that is meant to lessen the amount of internal competition between its lawyers. He said the firm has not run into trouble with such a wide-ranging view of its lawyers’ contributions.
“What we really want is people competing with themselves and not against each other,” Cohen said. “You’re not standing taller because you knock over the person next to you. If somebody falls down, we want you to pick them up.”