Goldberg Segalla’s founding managing partner, Rick Cohen, is stepping away in the firm’s first-ever leadership changeover, citing the increased challenges of child care during the Covid-19 pandemic as a major reason for the decision.
Cohen’s announcement will kick off the initial phase of a larger leadership transition at the Buffalo-based firm. He will officially hand the reins to a managing partner to be recommended by the firm’s management committee early next year.
Cohen said child care had been difficult before the pandemic but that the majority of the burden fell on his wife. Seven of his nine children are at home, including 8-year-old twins, 6-year-old triplets, and a 4-year-old.
“When we went to a remote environment and the schools closed, things got increasingly more hectic for me,” he said. “I have five children in elementary school. Five different teachers, five different classes, five different sets of homework responsibilities.”
The coronavirus pandemic has made child care more challenging than usual for a large part of the U.S. workforce, including attorneys who are often balancing heavy workloads with the need to care for their children and help them with remote learning.
“During that time it became very clear to me, maybe way too late, that I have been so busy running my firm that I have not paid as much attention to any of my kids as much as they deserved or expected of me,” Cohen said.
He leads a firm of more than 400 attorneys located in 21 offices, which he helped start back in April 2001 when the firm consisted merely of “seven lawyers on folding tables in Buffalo.”
“The seven of us took a leap of faith and a vision for the future and hung up our shingle and started a law firm,” said Cohen. Since then, he added, “I have worn an awful lot of hats.”
Cohen will remain a member of the firm’s five-person management committee. Fellow committee member Chris Belter will become chief operating officer, a new role at the firm, and the committee will recommend a new managing partner in January 2021.
Belter joined Goldberg Segalla shortly after it was founded, and is chair of its 100-lawyer construction practice. He has served on the firm’s management committee for 10 years and led the implementation of the firm’s continuity plan in response to Covid-19.
The new separation of managing partner and chief operating functions is designed to allow the firm to better manage growth as client demand increases, according to Cohen and Belter.
Cohen said Belter “stepped up” to lead the implementation of the firm’s continuity plan, which was developed while the firm was in full crisis-mode responding to client needs during the pandemic.
Belter said the firm plans to continue to grow in the coming years, specifically in its newly opened offices in Southern California and Florida.
He also expects that the firm’s attorneys and staff will work remotely in some cases even after the offices reopen. “All of our attorneys and staff were able to operate seamlessly in a remote environment,” he said. “It also allows us to be a lot more flexible with folks and their childcare needs.”
“We’re a business, but for all of our team members, their families should always be their priority,” Belter added. “I really commend Rick for recognizing that priority.”