Steven Cooperman, 54, Morrison Cohen, New York, New York
Job title: Chair and co-managing partner.
Practice area: Corporate.
Law school and year of graduation: Boston University, 1992.
How long have you been at the firm? I joined the firm in 1997 as a sixth-year associate after five years at Skadden. I worked for the firm for a year and then was hired by one of our clients. I rejoined in 2003 after almost five years as in-house counsel. So, all in all, I have been part of the Morrison Cohen community for 20 years.
How long were you a partner at the firm before being promoted to firm leadership? I made partner in 2005 and was elected to the Executive Committee in 2010. I was elected co-chair and managing partner in 2020.
Where there any surprises you faced after becoming a leader at the firm? Well, two months into my tenure, we had the onset of the pandemic and were immediately thrust into “break glass” mode. We found ourselves having to make business decisions that I was more accustomed to advising clients about. It was obviously a very tough and uncertain time in so many respects. The silver lining of that experience was that we quickly coalesced as a management team, and we learned a lot about the resilience and character of our firm and our people.
What’s been the biggest change, day-to-day, in your routine since becoming a leader at the firm? The obvious answer is the increased obligation and responsibilities. David Scharf, my co-managing partner, and I both feel it is important for us to continue to devote substantial time to our practices and business development. At the same time, there is so much that needs to get done and initiatives that are important to us. I am thankful to have him as a partner in this and could not imagine doing the job alone.
What do you think was the deciding point for the firm in elevating you to your current position? Our firm is midsized and we have 70 partners, including many who have worked together for 15 or more years. So, we know each other very well. I would not point to any singular event as a catalyst. Rather, I think it is the culmination of that shared history as well as relationships that bred a mutual trust and a belief by my partners that I had the character and temperament to lead the firm. I am thankful for that trust and the opportunity!
What advice would you give to someone whose goal is to ascend to firm leadership? I think the business of law and the management of the modern-day law firm has and will continue to evolve. There is so much thought leadership out there to read and digest. Observe how your firm is being managed and ask yourself whether you agree with the direction of the firm and the decisions that are made. If the answer is no, then ask what you would do differently. And find ways to contribute at your own firm—join a committee and look to take leadership. Start small and build from there!
Who had the greatest influence in your career that helped propel you to your leadership role? There are a few people I would mention. Bill Rubenstein was my mentor in my early years at Skadden. He was a fantastic M&A lawyer, and he gave me my technical foundation as a lawyer. David Scherl, Morrison Cohen’s former chair, and managing partner, was a big reason I joined the firm. I was attracted to his passion and strategic vision. Over our 15-plus years together, we worked closely building client relationships and on firm management, and I learned a great deal from him. Finally, I developed my work ethic from watching my father. He was an educator and also had a vending business that he would run on his own after the school day. He regularly worked 14-hour days to support our family. Even with those long hours, he was a constant presence in my life.
Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently? I am not sure I would do much differently and that’s certainly not because I think I did everything right. I was not a person who had each step of my career mapped out. I chose paths after exploring options and based on my gut of what felt “right,” which was often driven by the people I would be working with. It was a huge reason why I came back to Morrison Cohen again in 2003. I feel that has worked out very well for me.
How do you keep your teams motivated during these unprecedented times? Like many firms, we have been fortunate that demand for our services has been very strong during the pandemic. So, I don’t think motivation has been a real issue. I think the bigger challenge was making sure people were “OK” and continued to feel some connection to the firm while working from home. We did that with programmatic initiatives, such as a mentorship program, virtual guest speakers, social events (when health conditions allowed) and mindfulness seminars as well as informal check-ins. It was challenging. We are now back to the office under a “hybrid” work plan that we feel will offer our people both the flexibility and convenience that we have gotten used to in working remotely and also the ability to feel that closer connection to the firm by interacting in an office setting.
What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of? I take great pride in Morrison Cohen and my career, but I would have to say my family, hands down.
What’s the one characteristic that you believe every firm leader should possess? An ability to listen.
What is the one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers? Arrogance.
What key elements you would like to focus on for 2022. Growth. Execution. Adaptability.
What’s the key to running a successful initiative in your opinion and, based on recent events like COVID and work-from-home policies, has your definition of success changed since 2020/2021? A quote which I just heard at a managing partners’ roundtable and that resonated with me comes to mind—“execution is a strategy.” There is so much that David and I want our firm to accomplish. Some of our recent and current initiatives include a firmwide branding exercise and website redesign, ongoing business development training for all of our attorneys, the rollout of our hybrid work policy, a reimagining of our office space, participation in the Midsize Mansfield Rule and the list goes on. With all that going on, plus the regular day-to-day business, it can become easy to lose momentum and get sidetracked. You need persistence and passion to drive these projects home.
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