Conversation with Hannah Genton, Founding Partner of CGL
How to Launch a Virtual Law Firm
April 11, 2018
1. What is your business?
CGL is a virtual law firm that provides big law quality services at a fraction of the cost. All of our attorneys have worked at the most prestigious law firms in the country. The virtual part means that we don’t keep any offices and don’t have the typical overhead of a law practice. This allows us to give our clients the same sophisticated and tailored services but at a much lower cost.
Right now, our practice focuses on corporate law and tech transactions, and our services range from company formations, commercial transactions and fundraising, to employment matters like offer letters, separation agreements and equity grants. We can address almost anything that arises in the day-to-day running of a business.
Our model also works well for our attorneys. CGL attorneys get to decide how much they want to work and from wherever they’d like to do so (and we really mean from wherever!). The ability to practice law on your own terms is an anomaly in the legal world. We believe that working remotely and having control over one’s time is a recruiting advantage. Our attorneys are paid on an hourly basis, so the more they work the more they make. It’s totally up to them.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
My business partner, Noam Cohen, and I were always interested in doing our own thing– even before law school. But upon graduating, we both received offers at big law firms and each of us decided it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. Working at a large, national law firm is the best legal training because you’re exposed to the biggest deals in the market, receive training and mentorship from leading experts in the field, and become part of an amazing network.
After a while, though, we both came to the same conclusion that it wasn’t the career that we wanted. The lifestyle of long billable hours and the inability to control our schedules or plan ahead just wasn’t working anymore. The unpredictability struck me as incompatible with having a family, and I chose to leave my former law firm after having my son.
Once we had kids, it gave us the courage and motivation to finally go out on our own. We were fortunate enough to be in similar situations and decided to pursue the opportunity together.
3. Was there one moment that gave you the confidence that this was a good idea?
Actually, there were lots of moments! As we were socializing the idea, we received validation from just about everyone we talked to.
We also spoke with some potential clients about whether they would consider hiring a law firm like ours and in doing so, were able to secure our first two clients. We went into the conversation to ask advice and understand the person’s needs and immediately we heard, “This is a great idea. I would love to work with you. Sign me up!”
4. Were there any partnerships or advice that were particularly helpful?
Our best partnerships are actually with other attorneys, particularly the larger law firms. They get it, and are very supportive of our model. Many companies, particularly early stage start-ups, have a lot of day-to-day legal needs but are price-sensitive. The bigger firms recognize that our model complements their services. This type of partnership benefits everybody– clients can outsource their more basic or repetitive legal work to us, thereby saving money, and the larger firms can hold onto their clients and step in as they mature and/or a major transaction comes along requiring their expertise. It’s great for us because it’s an ongoing referral source.
5. Who did you speak to for support as you were working on the idea/launch?
We spoke to a lot of people for support. There has been a natural draw toward other female founders and working mothers. We realized early on that we wanted to work with female entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, as well as learn from them. We’re a part of several organizations and networks that really align with what we’re building, including Ellevate Network and WeAct. The advice that we got from women in the start-up space has been invaluable.
6. What are some successes you have had with your business that make you proud?
Noam and I had an offsite strategy session this past weekend and had this moment where we realized how far we’ve come. That was really cool.
There are so many things I’m proud of. One is that we were able to recoup our start-up costs within the first two months of forming. We were very fortunate to have clients off the bat.
We also made our first hire within four months of launching and are working with her to open a new practice area in Cannabis law. We think Cannabis is a very promising industry, especially in California where we are based. The regulations in this space are constantly changing and businesses require a lot of ongoing legal consultation.
7. What would be your biggest piece of advice you would give to yourself ten years ago?
Trust the process. There were so many moments in the last ten years where I questioned what I was doing and felt stressed about my next move. Now that things seem to really be working, I try to remind myself that things have a way of working out the way they’re supposed to.
8. What was the best and worst piece of advice you have received as you were starting your business?
The most valuable advice that we got was actually from our first client. The person we were vetting the idea with said, “I love this.” And we were putting the brakes on and telling him that we were still planning and hadn’t yet figured everything out. He said, “Stop planning. Just go for it.” Because we are both attorneys, we are hardwired to analyze before acting. Part of being an entrepreneur is learning on the fly, and getting sophisticated and creative once you hit a wall. Because until you hit the wall you wouldn’t have known anything about it.
I can’t think of any bad advice I’ve gotten, but something that stood out to me was people’s reactions. We got a lot of comments along the lines of, “Wow, you’re so courageous.” A lot of people expressed shock at our taking on a venture like this. Lawyers tend to be very risk averse and the legal community, while supportive, didn’t hold back in telling us how “brave” we were being. Sometimes, this didn’t feel like positive feedback. We had to consistently remind ourselves that we were following our truth and that it wasn’t about courage.
9. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
We hope that CGL continues to provide sustainable legal solutions to clients while creating a flexible and supportive work environment for attorneys. Our mission is to support our clients as they grow and at the same time, offer our attorneys a better work-life balance.
This has been a very empowering experience and we hope that our journey serves to empower others, particularly female entrepreneurs and mothers looking for meaning and fulfillment in their careers.
10. Are you willing to serve as a mentor to others interested in your sector?
Yes, absolutely! I am here today because of the guidance I received from my own mentors. Anything I can do to pay it forward, I’m all in. You can reach me or my partner on our website or on LinkedIn.
Date of Conversation: March 20, 2018
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