When the history of the modern law firm gets written — remember, there are Ph.D. candidates born every day — one of the key turning points will be the advent of the professional executive directors or as they’re now known, the chief operating officers. Today, 30 years after iconic COO Earle Yaffa was just a gleam in Skadden Arps’ eye, these executives have established themselves as central figures in the biggest and most ambitious firms, key players who don’t always have votes but clearly have voices, who sit at the proverbial adult table and, perhaps as importantly, who receive paychecks that signal their status as partners in everything but name.

Those are among the main findings of Law Firm Inc.’s first survey of the COOs of The Am Law 200 firms. This is the latest in the magazine’s series of polls aimed at extracting opinions and benchmarking data from key members of the executive suites of The Am Law 200, the top-grossing firms in the nation according to our sibling publication The American Lawyer. Later this year we will again survey the chief technology officers and head librarians, and for the first time, chief marketing officers. Together the results of these four surveys should form a provocative snapshot of the state of the much-discussed law firm C-suite.

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