Cesar Alvarez was the first Hispanic Fleader of a major law firm when he was elected Greenberg Traurig P.A.’s CEO two years ago. But as far as Mr. Alvarez and his partners are concerned, he has a second trait that is more significant: Mr. Alvarez has sole control over partner pay at the firm. In law firms, Mr. Alvarez sees benign dictatorship as the alternative to bureaucratic democracy and prefers a dictatorship of one. “The minute you have a compensation committee of five,” he says, “it becomes political.”

Mr. Alvarez is only the third CEO, after firm founders Mel Greenberg and Larry Hoffman. Although his powers remain absolute on paper, colleagues say that Mr. Alvarez is necessarily more of a consensus-builder.