Law firms are unusual institutions in that the owners are also the main producers. For COOs, that means that they must simultaneously heed the bidding of the partners while helping to guide their decisions. The task requires a wealth of tact and subtlety. Their skill at managing the owners may help explain why COO survey respondents said they felt well respected by partners. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest level of respect, respondents averaged a 4.1.

Mitchell Wallsh, executive director of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft in New York, says the most successful COOs blend management skills with a personality that thrives outside the limelight. “Temperament is a big factor in success because lawyers tend to have big egos,” he says. “Regardless of my tenure or stature, I’m not a partner and I have to remember that.”

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