Morrison Cohen Co-Managing Partner Shares His Thoughts On How Corporate Lawyers Can Succeed At Midsize Firms

This midsize firm leader has the scoop on what corporate associates need to know.

Steve Cooperman Morrison Cohen

Steve Cooperman (courtesy photo)

With demand drying up, corporate Biglaw attorneys have had a rough go of it over the course of the past year. With the possibility of layoffs unfortunately becoming top of mind, many of these lawyers may be wondering if there’s somewhere else they can take their talents. Lo and behold, pastures may, in fact, be greener for corporate attorneys at a midsize firm. These lawyers will, of course, have many questions about what their lives at a midsize firm will look like, and how they can make the most of this new experience.

Who better to answer these questions than the leader of a midsize firm who made the leap from Biglaw?

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Steve Cooperman, chair and co-managing partner of Morrison Cohen, an international midsize firm, to get his thoughts on the benefits of building a legal career as a corporate lawyer at a midsize firm rather than in Biglaw. Here is a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our lively conversation on how corporate lawyers can build meaningful careers at a midsize firm.

Staci Zaretsky (SZ): You started your career at Skadden and then moved to Morrison Cohen. Could you tell me a little bit about why you decided to make a move to a midsize firm?

Steve Cooperman (SC): I had a strong gut feeling that the firm, which was only 15 years old at the time, was on the verge of going to the next level of growth and sophistication. With 60 plus lawyers (now 130 lawyers), I felt that I had the potential to make a meaningful contribution in those efforts and would be part of a team and organization that I could get my arms around. That was a very exciting prospect.

SZ: What are some of the biggest benefits an associate can expect at a midsize firm over a Biglaw firm? 


SC: At our firm, deals are staffed with fewer associates, so associates benefit from increased responsibility and client facing opportunities, as well as greater attention to work-life harmony and investment by the firm in their future. We hire for the long term with the intention that our associates will grow into partners, so training and mentorship are a big part of our associates’ experience.

SZ: We all know that corporate associates in Biglaw firms have had a difficult time over the past year or so. How are corporate associates in midsize firms faring? 

SC: Given that much of our practice comprises middle market transactional work and we do our best to avoid making decisions based on cyclical market conditions, we are not as susceptible to some of the macro-economic headwinds that many larger firms face. Also, given our rate structure, we see up-market clients coming to us in a downturn in the economy, where they can get the talent of Biglaw at a lower cost. That means even in a market downturn, our volume of work has not suffered in any material way, and our associates have fared well.

SZ: Biglaw associates usually say that their billable hours obligations are their greatest cause of stress. Can you tell me what work-life balance looks like at a midsize firm? 

SC: For us, it means lower average annual billable hours. So while you will have times when you are working on a deal with all its attendant time pressures, as you might in Biglaw, that is not the perpetual state of affairs here. We watch our hours and workflows to make sure we are not stressing our system.


SZ: What advice do you have for an associate who may be considering a lateral move to a midsize firm?  

SC: Find a firm where you can still get sophisticated work and have the ability to continue to learn and progress. Culture is critical – at a midsize firm, everyone is much more visible so I think it is important to be at a place that aligns with your values, professional desires and goals.

On behalf of everyone here at Above the Law, we’d like to thank Steve Cooperman of Morrison Cohen for taking the time to help answer some pressing career questions for prospective corporate midsize associates.

Staci ZaretskyStaci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter and Threads or connect with her on LinkedIn.