Cogent Legal
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Morgan Smith

Going From “Start Up” to “Best Of”

recorder best logoI have some great news to announce that makes me very proud: Cogent Legal was voted “the best presentation provider” in Northern California for 2013 in The Recorder’s annual poll of law firms and legal services. It’s truly an honor to receive recognition like this when it feels like we’re just getting out of start-up mode. The award made me think about how Cogent has grown since its start in January 2011, which is a bit like watching a child grow into an interesting and independent person. (I used to think the idea that a corporation is a person under the eyes of the law was sort of silly, but when you see your own corporation grow, it’s not so silly.)

It only seems like a few months ago, not two-and-a-half years, that I was moving into our office space after spending several months at home developing my idea for a litigation graphics firm. Those first months were pretty lonely and anxiety-producing; I had left my previous law firm partnership, and all the people I cared about there, to try something completely different and potentially a lot less lucrative. What in the world was I thinking? But as more people came on board to work at the firm and Cogent’s client list grew, the new business took on a life of its own and finally started to seem more smart than crazy.

Starting a business in any field is not easy, and you definitely start with a feeling of “playing business” for quite a while as you’re extremely busy planning and taking the first steps of your business, but not spending much time on real paying work. When I helped found the Arns Law Firm with my partner and mentor Bob Arns in 1997, we had two major advantages I did not have with Cogent Legal: (1) we had a huge base of cases that came with us from the old firm; and (2) we were doing the same work—litigating cases—that Bob had done for 20 years and I had done for three.

By contrast, with Cogent Legal, I jumped into something much different from the basic practice of law, and much closer to a traditional design firm. I knew that my background in trying cases would allow me to help attorneys bridge the gap between their left-brain thinking and right-brain creative side in a way that would be hard for non-litigators to do. However, I had to learn and teach myself all about the production design process, and specifically how it applies to the litigation schedule. I certainly started off as the chief, cook and bottle washer, and I learned a great deal along the way.

If you’re an attorney who’s thinking of branching out, there is no doubt that leaving a firm and going out on your own, whether to continue to practice law or to do something different, is probably one of the hardest choices you’ll ever make. You’ll worry about whether you’ll like your new role, whether it will be a success, whether you’ll fail miserably, or simply barely get by for years in a sort of purgatory limbo.

The great thing about starting a new business is that you have total control over all the decisions that you make. The scariest thing about starting a new business is that you alone have total control over all the mistakes you might make along the way. Needless to say, you will make many mistakes and try many things that may not work as planned.  A key part of starting any new business is continually trying new things, not getting attached to any one idea, and maintaining determination to keep trying in spite of setbacks.

One of the best things is finding and hiring great employees who can do things better than you can do yourself.  They are what makes the company grow and thrive beyond what any chief, cook and bottle washer could ever accomplish singlehandedly. At Cogent Legal, we now have patent attorney Mike Kelleher coming on full time to meet the needs our clients who have business and IP cases. Perhaps you’ve read some of Mike’s recent blog posts here. He litigated IP and other complex business cases for 16 years and brings a deep understanding of the nuances involved in them.

The thing that makes me so proud of receiving The Recorder’s “Best Of” award is the validation that I made a great choice in starting Cogent. I know we will continue to grow and be more successful. It’s nice to let go of some of those start-up fears and to be recognized by our peers as doing a good job.

You can read the full list of The Recorder’s winners and runners-up hereI want to say a special thanks to Ted Brooks of  Litigation Tech, whom I respect greatly and who was recognized as runner-up for this award. Ted’s company  is masterful at providing litigation support and “hot-seat” operators to run all the courtroom tech in trial. At Cogent our main focus has always been on preparing the presentation graphics themselves, which is where our strength lies. Although both Cogent and Litigation Tech are under the same category for this award, we really specialize in different aspects of courtroom presentation.  For in-court presentation work, I highly recommend Litigation Tech and often contact Ted for this work.

As always, if you have any questions about how Cogent could help you with your case, or if you just want to talk about starting a firm, please feel free to contact me.

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