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By Roy S. Cohen
Twenty-Five years ago, at the tender age of 33, I decided that the time was right to start a law firm focusing on construction and commercial clients. Together with a second-year associate named John Greenhall and a business lawyer, Cohen & Green was formed. Using an alias (Hunter & Brown) to hide our true identity, we located and built-out 5,000 square feet of office space, hired a clerical staff, and set out to compete with much larger and more established law firms.
While our timing was all wrong for a construction practice (the Savings and Loan crisis hit a year after we began and eliminated all private construction), we succeeded with our “can do” attitude. Based on a series of positive results for our clients, as well as softball, golf, and fishing trips with our clients, the Firm quickly gained local name recognition, market share, and an expanded group of lawyers. Yet, nothing in the first few years of the Firm's existence gave me an inkling that we would morph from a small, local, construction boutique firm, into a full service, 55-plus lawyer firm with eight offices around the Mid-Atlantic region and work throughout the U.S. and abroad.
There is no question that the Firm had humble beginnings. Both the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh offices opened without furniture and with only a phone on the floor! Even the opening of our New York office was humbling as 10 of us from the Philadelphia office got stranded on the New Jersey Turnpike standing behind the guardrail trying to hail cabs to get to the Grand Opening party in Manhattan after our private bus broke down.
For our Firm to survive and prosper for 25 years it had to be both lucky and good. We are both. We have continuously earned successful results for our clients, either through settlement or verdict, not only in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, but up and down the eastern seaboard and across the country. Moreover, when the economy tanked twice in the last two decades, the Firm not only continued to prosper, but grew.
In the late 1980s a surety for whom we had successfully handled a $7,000 case, came to us with dozens of litigation matters worth millions of dollars, which fueled our early growth. Five years ago, when the recession hit, business litigation involving shareholder and partnership disputes helped propel the Firm through difficult times without the need for layoffs.
One of the keys to converting a young law firm into an institution is the ability to build a core of key people and then add to it each year. Over the years, John Greenhall and I were blessed to have a number of legal stars join our ranks and build the core. George Pallas arrived in 1993 and Ed Seglias in 1995. Their emergence as rainmakers allowed us to shed some less productive business units and remake the Firm as Cohen, Seglias, Pallas and Greenhall in 1998. Four years later, Marc Furman brought his labor practice and joined both the Firm and Firm’s name. In the last ten years, Mike Payne brought his Federal Practice Group, we opened offices in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Wilmington, Tony Byler & Evan Blaker merged with our Firm and Chris Georgoulis brought his six lawyer New York practice to the fold. Just as important, some home grown talent emerged as
stars and became stalwarts of the Firm, including Jason Copley, Shawn Farrell, Ed DeLisle, Lane Kelman, Jon Landesman, and Lisa Wampler. Other key lateral hires like Judge Gene Cohen, Marian Kornilowicz, Jim Harker, Bob Beste, Wayne Buckwalter, and Lonny Cades helped the Firm develop commercial litigation, business transactions, trust and estates, employment, and creditors’ rights practices. Most importantly, the Firm has a solid core of young rising stars in its associate pool.
The Firm was built on the belief that its strength was the sum of its parts and not any one individual. Additionally, the Firm prides itself on treating its professional and administrative staff like family. Many of the staff have been with the Firm between 10 and 20 years and are integral to the success of our business. Any employer who is able to keep its core personnel intact for decades gives itself a competitive advantage. We certainly have benefited from this familial culture.
While our partners have a burning desire to succeed and an unswerving dedication to our clients, we try never to take ourselves too seriously. We recognize our success is a team effort. Some
of the more “experienced” attorneys recognize their limits with technology and gladly turn to our more “tech-savvy” associates and administrative staff for direction.
To say I am proud of the juggernaut we have built is an understatement. My partners are my brothers and sisters. We may argue about business issues, but at the end of the day it is “all hugs.” We relish in each other’s success and cheer each other on. We have watched each other’s children grow from infants to young adults, and see the next wave of the Firm repeating this cycle.
I think back fondly to the Firm which had my two daughters, each under 4 feet tall at the time, manning the outfield as we played our clients in softball. I juxtapose that with the image of a Firm today which takes cases in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as from coast to coast in the U.S.
Under the tutelage of Jason Copley, our managing partner, and Kathleen Garrity, our Executive Director, the Firm is poised to grow even more in coming years. Five years ago, I penned an article called "Twenty Years at a Glance.” I hope to check back with you five years from now to tell you where the Firm is. I can hardly wait.
Roy is President of the Firm, practicing in the Construction Group. He can be reached at 215.564.1700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope you’ve had a great year and are enjoying the holiday season. We are excited to celebrate our 25th Anniversary and to share some stories from the Firm’s history with you. As always, please feel free to reach out to us with any questions.
This is a great opportunity for me to share my thoughts about Cohen Seglias as I reflect upon 25 years of success and growth. First and foremost, when I joined the Firm as a 4th year associate in February of 1998, I can assure you that I never contemplated being here for 15 years or becoming the Firm’s Managing Partner. In the early days, I no doubt dreamed about becoming a partner but spent most of my time trying to keep up with Roy Cohen, Ed Seglias, George Pallas, and John Greenhall as they worked tirelessly to represent the Firm’s clients, to bring in new business, and add lawyers to the Firm. Clearly their efforts were rewarded as we have grown into an established regional law firm with offices in 6 states, more than 1,000 clients, and close to 100 employees! My growth is directly related to the Firm’s culture which supports professional development.
As the Managing Partner, I am proud of our Firm and all that we have accomplished together. We have hardworking partners, associates, administrators, and staff, all of whom are dedicated to doing excellent work for our clients every day. I work with a wonderful group of managers who keep the Firm running so that each and every lawyer in the Firm can be successful and grow as a professional. In September of this year, Kathleen Garrity joined us as our new Executive Director and has already taken a significant leadership role within the Firm. We have big plans for the future and believe that Kathleen is going to be a key contributor as we go forward! It is a real honor to be the Managing Partner of Cohen Seglias in 2013 and beyond as we continue to meet new challenges.
Cohen Seglias has always been successful because of the relationships we have with our clients. We work every day to give our clients quality and timely service. This is more and more challenging as technology continues to increase the expectations for businesses of all types. We have been committed to investing in our IT systems for more than 10 years, which has allowed us to become more and more efficient as we move forward. We also continue to advance our regional growth, as was the case this year with the addition of our New York office. Our Federal Practice Group and construction practice has taken us all over the country, as our well-developed expertise in these areas has opened new doors, and in the case of the Federal Practice Group even taken us to the Middle East.
In the coming years, we will all continue to see technology and social media become bigger and bigger parts of our business and personal lives. In many ways, this change has already been cemented in our lives, yet in many others, these advances have only begun to change the way we do business. It is certain that the rate of change is ever increasing as are our efforts to keep pace with these changing realities. As our next generation of lawyers move forward with their careers, Cohen Seglias is committed to the continual improvement of our technology and the use of social media in business development. One example is our investment in e-discovery and electronic document review platform. This area of our business has grown rapidly in the last two years and is an important part of our future. Our IT department headed by Matt Payne has worked tirelessly to support this expanding part of our business.
So what lies ahead for the Firm? Where will we be 10 years from now? Obviously, these are difficult questions to answer, but all of our partners and this Managing Partner see a very bright future where everyone at the Firm is vested in the next 25 years of success! I know we will continue to focus on bringing business solutions to the challenges faced by our clients and staying current with technology. We will continue to build on the successful foundation Roy put in place at this Firm 25 years ago. We will expand our practice areas and the markets we service. I am very excited to be a part of this next chapter of Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman PC.
Jason is Managing Partner of the Firm, practicing in the Construction Group. He can be reached at 215.564.1700 or email@example.com.
Q: What are you most proud of?
A: George — I am really proud of our commitment to providing high quality legal services to our clients at a reasonable cost. Because of this, we have been able to serve many of our clients for a long time and our focus has been and continues to be generating successful results for them.
A: Ed — The talent we have accumulated, the character of everyone who works here and how we put our clients’ interests first. I am also proud of how we have created our own firm culture and the sophisticated clients we represent and the challenge of the cases we handle.
Q: How did you find your way to Cohen Seglias?
A: Marc — I was introduced to Roy for the first time in the early eighties and sometime in the mid-nineties Roy initiated a meeting. It turned out, we already had many of the same clients, we just provided them with different legal services. After a few years of “dating” we “got married.” I had considered our options merging with other firms, but none fit so well as Cohen Seglias. I have never regretted our decision. It was a testament to everyone involved that we were able to seamlessly integrate a 50-year old labor & employment practice into the firm, without any bumps or conflicts.
Q: What is the biggest difference you see at the Firm today compared to the early days?
A: John — We have substantially increased the number of talented attorneys, but more importantly, we have increased the scope of our practice and now have a large national presence.
A: George — Our commitment to technology. We are truly ahead of the curve and the new generation of lawyers is spearheading the change. A big difference now is also our sophisticated business approach. We have a competent professional staff helping us run the Firm as a business.
A: Marc — The increase in administrative staff. On the one hand it may take longer to make decisions, but on the other hand it makes it easier when you don’t have to worry too much about the administrative side of the business. Believe it or not, I used to do payroll myself at my old firm.
Q: What has been most challenging?
A: Ed — In building a new firm, we have had to balance the encouragement of individual partners who need to develop their own practice against the administrative operating structure necessary for a firm of our size to grow and prosper.
A: Shawn — The most challenging obstacles concern how we can better protect our clients and minimize the inherent financial risks associated with all construction projects; through better contact drafting, team project communication and dispute resolution.
Q: What are you hoping the Firm will accomplish over the next 25 years?
A: Ed — Continued healthy growth, opportunities for all lawyers of the Firm, and continued improvement in the way we deliver our services.
A: John — I am looking forward to the continued growth of the Firm carried by our clients’ success and our need to increase our practice areas to further assist them.
A: Shawn — In the next 25 years, I would like to see the Firm strengthen from within, by training our associates to emerge as the next leaders in the construction law industry.
The Firm’s merger with my boutique government contract law firm, Payne Hackenbracht & Sullivan, in 2009, was one of many milestones in the development of Cohen Seglias as one of the largest, and most successful, construction law firms in the Mid-Atlantic region. The new Federal Practice Group expanded the capability of the Firm to represent the interests of both federal construction and supply contractors. In the five years since the merger, the Federal Group has grown considerably, developing a strong national and international presence that serves the interests of government contractors in over thirty states and a number of foreign countries.
I thought that this anniversary issue would be a good place to explain some of the capabilities of the Federal Practice Group and how we now serve a growing number of contractors working on federal government projects. While federal government contracting has many similarities when compared to government contracting generally, there are also a number of significant differences. The differences often arise because of the myriad of federal laws and social programs that are implemented by a regulatory system that is spearheaded by the Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”). Navigating the murky waters of the FAR, and the supplemental agency acquisition regulations, is a difficult task. The federal procurement process, together with complicated and confusing contract provisions, creates a veritable minefield for those who are unfamiliar with federal contracting. The required recordkeeping, alone, is enough to drive a contractor crazy! The counter, of course, is that the government’s checks do not bounce (at least, not yet).
To keep things lively, there is always something new. When the government was attempting to stimulate the economy, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“ARRA”) was enacted to fund a number of projects that had previously been placed on the back-burner. The reporting requirements tied to ARRA were quite onerous, however, and a whole new set of regulations had to be studied and followed. Many contractors who had not been interested in federal contracting decided to go where the money was and entered the federal marketplace for the first time. Unfortunately, they often found out that it was not easy to compete with experienced federal contractors, and they further discovered that the competition was fierce. Many contracting officers reported that projects where 5–10 bids were anticipated attracted as many as 50 bidders. We are proud to have helped so many contractors enter the federal contracting arena for the first time, and we have enjoyed educating them about the ways to find business opportunities, the ways to deal with federal agencies, and the ways to protect their interests.
Sadly, virtually every significant federal project becomes the subject of a bid protest. The practice, in years gone by, of soliciting contractors through sealed bidding, where the lowest price generally won, has been largely replaced by a “best value” procurement process, which evaluates a bidder’s past performance, experience, technical merit, and quality of personnel. In this “contracting by negotiation” process, contracts can be awarded to a contractor who is not offering the lowest price because other evaluation factors may be deemed more important. This fundamental shift in the government’s procurement process has been responsible for the spike in the number of bid protests.
We spend a lot of time advising our clients as to whether a protest is feasible or defending their interests when they have been awarded a contract that is protested by a disappointed bidder. We have engaged in a number of successful bid protests involving unfair government actions affecting VA, HUBZone, and other small businesses.
It is very gratifying when we prevail on a bid protest, but it is particularly gratifying when we can solve a problem early and avoid litigation. Our services include assistance in the preparation of proposals, the interpretation of contract provisions, the proper application and compliance with procurement regulations and the rules governing ethics in federal contracting, and assisting our clients to effectively communicate with government agencies. We also assist clients in preparing requests for equitable adjustment and claims for additional compensation. Our recent successes include the reversal of a termination for default where the government furnished defective specifications and failed to acknowledge differing site conditions, and the successful negotiation and settlement of a number of contract claims that involved changes, terminations, differing site conditions, suspensions of work, and delays.
It is a full time job to keep up with the constantly changing, and challenging, field of federal contracting. Our “Federal Construction Contracting Blog” is well-known and widely read. It focuses on federal construction issues and it enables us to keep the industry informed about the latest developments. We also recently launched a federal construction Twitter handle (@FedConLaw) where we share relevant industry news. We look forward to continuing our service to the federal contracting community for many years to come, and helping our clients resolve issues in a practical and cost-effective manner.
Michael is Chair of the Firm’s Federal Construction Group. He can be reached at 215.564.1700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
1988 — Firm President Roy S. Cohen forms the foundation of Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman PC with the establishment of a three-attorney office in Philadelphia
2000 — The Firm establishes a Business Practice Group to handle real estate, tax, and trust and estate issues
2002 — Cohen Seglias merges with Rothenberg Silverman & Furman, PC, a 50-year-old law firm focusing in labor and employment matters
2003 — The Firm opens an office in Pittsburgh, PA
2004 — The Firm opens an office in Wilmington, DE 2005 — Cohen Seglias moves its Philadelphia office to 30 S. 17th Street, occupying the 19th floor of the building, providing the Firm with additional office space
2005 — The Firm opens an office in Harrisburg, PA
2007 — The Firm opens an office in Morgantown, WV
2009 — Payne Hackenbracht & Sullivan joins Cohen Seglias, bringing a seasoned Federal Construction Contracting group to the Firm 2010 — The Firm forms an affiliation in Towson, MD
2012 — The Firm opens an office in Iselin, NJ
2013 — Georgoulis & Associates joins Cohen Seglias, bringing an experienced and well-established New York City construction practice