Denver attorneys Tom Werge and Greg Corbin have merged their boutique firms, Werge Law and Signal Law, to create a combined firm focused on serving small businesses, music and entertainment industry clients, creatives and nonprofits. The combined firm, Werge & Corbin, will operate under the name Werge Law Group.
Although they announced their merger in May, Werge and Corbin have been working together since the spring of 2020. At the time, Corbin was starting Signal Law, a transactions-focused practice, and was looking for opportunities to serve as co-counsel. Meanwhile, Werge’s associate was out sick with COVID-19 and he needed someone to help out. Corbin started moonlighting for Werge Law, which had been focused on business litigation, while building his own firm, and the two soon started talking about officially joining forces.
“We see the law similarly, and we see the business of law similarly,” Corbin said. “Over the past two years, as we worked closer and closer together, we realized we want to build the same business from two different ends [and] we want to serve the same clients from two different ends.”
Those clients include small businesses — a diverse group that ranges from startups founded by first-time business owners to sophisticated ventures run by serial entrepreneurs. What they have in common, according to Corbin, is a need for attorneys who can “think about the business perspective” when approaching legal work.
“I went to business school and worked in business for seven years before becoming a lawyer,” Werge said. “And so I have always told my clients I put my business hat on before I put my lawyer and litigator hat on.” He said that small businesses tend to “get lost in the legal system.” Sometimes that’s because they hire a bigger firm than they need where they are treated as an afterthought or just a source of revenue, he added.
“We don’t look at our clients that way. We like to tell clients when they shouldn’t hire us as much as when they should,” Werge said, adding that sometimes it makes business sense for a client to handle certain matters on their own. “We’re not looking to capture every single opportunity to bill clients.”
Werge Law Group also plans to serve creatives. Werge Law carved out a niche serving musicians and music industry clients, particularly in transactions and copyright infringement cases. Werge himself has been performing and releasing music with his ska band for over 25 years. According to Werge, when he started his own firm in 2016, he wanted to merge three parts of himself — the litigator, the businessman and the musician. He started fostering connections with entertainment lawyers around the country and Werge Law eventually developed a reputation as a small firm that could handle litigation.
Musicians and other entertainment industry clients will continue to be a focus for the firm in both transactional matters and litigation. The firm also represents film producers and photographers, among other creatives.
“We love working with musicians, but the real thing we love doing is helping them with their small business needs,” Corbin said, adding that while they often don’t realize it, a four-person band “is more or less a small company.” “Helping counsel them on this new avenue while they get to focus on doing what they love doing is really exciting for us,” he said.
According to Werge, the firm plans to build up its transactional practice and representation of startups and nonprofits — all areas Corbin has focused on. Like musicians and creatives, Werge said, a nonprofit is “still a business that needs to think of itself as a business.”
“I think you can see kind of a through line, as well. We like working with people who are passionate about what they do, whether it’s musicians, nonprofit directors, boards of directors and nonprofits [or] small businesses,” Corbin said.
Although the merger marries Werge Law’s business litigation experience with Signal Law’s focus on transactions, the attorneys say they don’t see the combined firm as a one-stop shop for small business legal needs. “We are excited about the additional services that we can provide to our existing clients,” Werge said, but he added that “we are not shy about sending the work out.” Corbin said that both he and Werge are involved in the Colorado Bar Association’s solo and small firm section, and they see their network as a resource for clients with issues they’re not equipped to handle.
“Our goal any time a client brings us a legal problem is: Are we the best person? Are we the best firm to represent this client for this issue? If not, let’s get them in the right hands,” Werge said.
Werge Law Group’s business operations will continue to be overseen by firm director Shelby Sokora, and the firm also includes associate attorney Kelsey Martin, three of counsel attorneys, two paralegals and one law clerk. The firm’s headcount increased by about two or three for a total of around a dozen, according to Werge. However, he said, “our goal is not necessarily to grow for the sake of growth. Our goal is to right-size our ability to serve our client base.”
While much of the firm’s work is done on a traditional hourly billing model, the attorneys have experimented with billing practices to increase affordability and transparency so they can continue to work with clients they enjoy. Occasionally that has meant flat-rate billing while other times the firm has provided a minimum and maximum fee while billing hourly, which helps business owners budget. The firm also considers taking on clients on a reduced or contingency basis when appropriate. “We also make a real effort to provide a lot of detail in our bills to our clients so they see what we’re doing,” Werge said.