Rise of the Legal COO

For law firms considering restructuring their business to meet the demands of a highly competitive market, hiring an experienced chief operations officer (COO) is sure to be a consideration. 

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  • Publication date: January, 2017
  • Pages: 100


For law firms considering restructuring their business to meet the demands of a highly competitive market, hiring an experienced chief operations officer (COO) is sure to be a consideration. 

However, the reassignment of duties and shift in perspective this appointment will require may prove challenging for some firms. Finding the perfect match for a firm’s unique culture and requirements is a difficult yet essential task. 

With input from a number of current law firm COOs and executive directors, alongside some of the most respected and sought-after consultants working in the legal space, Rise of the Legal COO examines the scope and variety of the legal COO role and how the challenges and demands of the position have altered as law firms have evolved over the last two decades. 

Broken up into two parts, part one features first-hand experiences and insight from the likes of Chris Bull, founding director of Kingsmead Square, Rod Harrington, COO of Norton Rose Fulbright, Sherry Gini, COO of Goldberg Kohn, Michael L. DeLargy, Executive Director of Barnes & Thornburg LLP, and Blane R. Prescott, COO Foley & Lardner LLP, Patrick McKenna, internationally recognized author, and James G. Perkins, COO of Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves and Savitch LLP.

Part two of the Rise of the Legal COO is a series of exclusive interviews with current COOs, who talk about how they relate to and support other leadership positions, get buy-in for change, and how they add value to the role, including ​Alastair Mitchell, COO of Pinsent Masons LLP, Blane R. Prescott, COO Foley & Lardner LLP, Sherry Gini, COO of Goldberg Kohn, and Michael L. DeLargy, Executive Director of Barnes & Thornburg LLP


About the contributors

Executive summary

Part 1: The Role of the Legal COO

Chapter 1: Horses for courses – The spectrum of chief operating officer roles in law firms

By Chris Bull, founding director of Kingsmead Square

  • Before you begin
  • COO Model 1 – ‘Riding shotgun’
  • Model 2A and 2B – The chief finance and operating officer
  • Model 3 – The internal service and procurement head
  • Model 4 – The infrastructure head
  • Model 5 – The shared service head
  • Model 6 – The practice COO
  • Model 7 – The operational transformation leader
  • The corporate legal operations head

Chapter 2: Evolution of the legal COO role – Influencing and influenced by the changing law firm model

  • The legacy model
  • “Outsiders” in the legal profession
  • The COO role in a changing industry
  • The COO’s role in implementing change
  • The future

Chapter 3: When a new firm leader takes the reins

By Patrick J. McKenna

  • 1. Be clear on the new leader’s specific goals
  • 2. Be honest and candid in identifying those areas that the managing partner may regard as a weakness
  • 3. Sort out the reporting relationships
  • 4. Determine boundaries and division of responsibility
  • 5. Identify expectations and the specific behaviors you want to see
  • 6. Determine your preferred communications protocols
  • 7. The COO needs to know how to best read and interact with the managing partner
  • 8. Determine how you need to operate in order not to undermine each other The bottom line

Chapter 4: Six factors that impede effective firm leader-COO relationships

By Patrick J. McKenna

  • 1. You need to have respect for one another
  • 2. There should be role clarity
  • 3. Have the ability to compromise
  • 4. Provide candid feedback
  • 5. Beware of the divide-and-conquer ploy
  • 6. Poor performance can overwhelm any relationship

Chapter 5: The role of the chief operating officer in a law firm – Personal observations

By James G. Perkins, chief operating officer and chief compliance officer of Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves and Savitch LLP

  • Background
  • The basic role of a COO
  • The underpinnings of success
  • What does a COO bring to the table
  • The future

Part 2: Interviews with Law Firms COOs

Interview 1: Alastair Mitchell, COO of Pinsent Masons

Interview 2: Blane R. Prescott, Chief Operating Officer of Foley & Lardner LLP

Interview 3: Sherry Gini, COO of Goldberg Kohn

Interview 4: Michael Delargy, Executive Director of Barnes & Thornburg



Patrick J McKenna
Patrick J. McKenna is an internationally recognized author, lecturer, strategist, and seasoned advisor to the leaders of premier professional service firms, and he has also had the honour of working with at least one of the largest firms in over a dozen different countries. Patrick is the author of numerous books, most notably his international business bestseller, First Among Equals (currently in its sixth printing and translated into nine languages). His consulting expertise was acknowledged in 2008, when he was identified through independent research compiled and published by Lawdragon as “one of the most trusted names in legal consulting”, and his three decades of experience led to his being the subject of a Harvard Law School Case Study entitled ‘Innovations In Legal Consulting’ (2011). One example of that innovation was his launching the first instructional program designed to specifically address the issues that new firm leaders of larger firms face in their first 100 days – which has thus far graduated over 70 new leaders many from AmLaw 100 and 200-sized law firms, as well as from notable accounting and consulting firms. He is the only expert in professional service firms admitted to the Association of Corporate Executive Coaches, the #1 US group for senior level CEO coaches; and was acknowledged in 2014 by The American Lawyer magazine as ‘a long time succession consultant and coach to new firm leaders’.
Chris Bull
Chris Bull is a founding Executive Director of professional services consultancy Kingsmead Square.
James G. Perkins
James G. Perkins, chief operating offi cer and chief compliance offi cer at Procopio, leads the fi rm’s non-legal operations including fi nance, human resources, administration, marketing, and information services. With 20 years of experience at the fi rm, he has more than 35 years total leading as a chief operating and chief fi nancial offi cer in the professional services, management consulting and manufacturing industries.
Michael L. DeLargy
Michael L. DeLargy is executive director of Barnes & Thornburg and is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the firm, including finance, information technology, human resources, marketing and facilities. Mr. DeLargy has served as chief operating officer and chief growth officer at a large regional law firm in Chicago. Prior to entering the legal administration field, he was an accountant, controller and director of operations for regional and national accounting firms. He is a graduate of Point Park College and he earned an MBA from Robert Morris College. He joined Barnes & Thornburg in 2014. Mr. DeLargy is a member of the Association of Legal Administrators’ (ALA) national, Chicago and New York City chapters and is a past treasurer and current advisor to the board of directors of the Chicago ALA chapter. He is also a member of the Legal Marketing Association; International Facilities Management Association; International Legal Technology Association; and American Management Association.
Sherry Gini
Sherry Gini is the Chief Operating Officer at Goldberg Kohn, a commercial mid-size law firm in Chicago, where she oversees the management of the day to day operations of the firm, including human resources, recruiting, technology, security, marketing, operations, and space planning. Sherry is a member of the management committee, which is responsible for the long-term strategic planning of the firm. She is also an active member of the firm’s diversity committee and women’s task force. Sherry has 24 years of human resources and management experience in the legal and corporate communities. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Business from Indiana University, a Master of Science in Human Resources from Loyola University Chicago, and a Certificate in Financial Management from University of Chicago. She is an active member in the ALA, SALA, SHRM, and several other roundtable associations.
Rod Harrington
Rod Harrington joined Norton Rose Fulbright as Chief Operating Officer in May 2016. Prior to that he spent five years at Latham & Watkins in 2011 to manage their European operations and help develop and deliver on the firm’s strategic objectives in the region. He also spent 18 years in the management consultancy sector, latterly as European COO for Booz & Company (formerly Booz Allen Hamilton) where he was responsible for financial management and operational leadership for a business of over 700 consultants. An accountant by background, Rod has held many senior finance positions in the past including CFO for the Global Integrated Markets practice at Booz. He holds a degree in Chemical Engineering from Exeter and is a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.
Alastair Mitchell
Alastair Mitchell has over 30 years’ experience of working in professional service firms. He is currently Chief Operating Officer at Pinsent Masons where he is responsible for the firm’s operational infrastructure across the global network. Alastair plays a lead role in ensuring that business operations departments work together to support the firm through provision of services that are fit for purpose and support the firm’s strategy, whilst being high quality and cost effective. Alastair has extensive international experience having worked in Asia and Central and Eastern Europe. He has previously held roles as COO at both Linklaters, where he worked for 13 years, and Holman Fenwick Willan. Alastair is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and is also a graduate of the Meyler Campbell Executive Coaching Programme, with a keen interest in developing young talent.
Blane R. Prescott
Chief Operating Officer, Foley and Lardner

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