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THE MAGAZINE      May/June 2002
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Edited By Milton W. Zwicker

A must-read management guide for law firm and practice group leaders. Plus, an e-book on electronic documents—its author practices what he preaches.

First Among Equals: How to Manage a Group of Professionals

Patrick J. McKenna and David H. Maister. (Free Press, 2002.) $26. ISBN: 0-743225511. www.simonsays.com.

Reviewed By Robert E. Gilbert

Like many who read Law Practice Management, I have been painfully aware that my law school education ill-prepared me for leading a practice group, let alone a sizeable firm. Recently, this point was driven home vividly when I examined the curriculum offered by the leading business school where my son-in-law received his M.B.A.

I expected to see offerings dealing with the nuts and bolts of running a business: accounting, labor relations, marketing, information technology and the like. There were such classes, of course, but I was struck by the fact that a substantial portion of the curriculum was devoted to subjects like group dynamics, teamwork and human motivation. It is clear that our nation’s business schools recognize the importance of leadership and group cooperation to a company’s bottom line. And it is equally clear that they believe leadership can be taught to those who may not have been born to it.

Contrast that with the typical law school curriculum. My own law school offered no courses remotely related to the management of lawyers in a law firm setting. Even today, when many law firms have developed into complex multioffice international businesses with enormous revenues, a curriculum that offers courses on "Bloodfeuds" and "Law & Film: Women as Victim & Villain" still cannot find room for a course on firm leadership.

While law schools may be forgiven for not teaching courses of immediate relevance to their graduates, what about consulting firms? Most consultants who advise law firms tend to focus on what, for lack of a better term, I’ll call the mechanics of firm management (the strategic plan, the merger process, the compensation system), rather than the more ephemeral skill sets entailed in leading and motivating lawyers.

Into this enormous void have bravely leapt Patrick McKenna and David Maister, co-authors of First Among Equals: How to Manage a Group of Professionals. Theirs is a daunting task, particularly with respect to that portion of their audience that is comprised of lawyers. Let us face it. Most of us gravitated to the law because we were not reluctant to assert ourselves. Our natural proclivities have been enhanced by intensive formal training in advocacy and by years of combat experience in the guise of litigation or negotiation. By nature and education, we are difficult targets.

But the authors rise to this challenge admirably. They have summoned their considerable experience in professional firm management consulting to produce a wise and practical guide. They combine insightful observations about human behavior (particularly of professionals) with clear, step-by-step lists of leadership tasks designed to address the identified behavioral issues.

The book is divided into four parts, corresponding to the authors’ perceptions of the four major tasks of group leaders: "Getting Ready" (clarifying your role, confirming your mandate); "Coaching the Individual" (listening, helping underperformers, dealing with prima donnas); "Coaching the Team" (clarifying group goals, building team trust, energizing meetings); and "Building for the Future" (nurturing juniors, measuring group results).

McKenna and Maister recognize that they are attempting to impart leadership skills to busy people who are part-time leaders and who must also deal with the daily pressures of practicing their profession. However, the authors make a persuasive case that the time a group leader spends on effective group management will be rewarded with improved group performance. And the book provides specific, practical lists of tasks that will enable attentive readers to perform their leadership responsibilities efficiently.

At the risk of sounding trite, this book should be required reading for every group leader who aspires to effective management. And we should hope that the authors produce another leadership guide directed at managing partners who seek to stir their group leaders to such aspirations.

Robert E. Gilbert is an attorney with Miller Canfield in Detroit, MI.

Electronic Documents for Litigators

Rick Talcott. (TechnoLawyer.com Network, 2002.) E-book in PDF. www.technolawyer.com.

Reviewed By Milton W. Zwicker

At the dawn of the office automation era, the paperless office was a big idea—an idea that has not materialized. We have, however, made progress, which is fortunate because delivering and storing paper documents is increasingly time-consuming and expensive.

Lawyers and firms know that they need reliable, easy-to-use electronic documents they can share, review, file and archive. But transforming hard copies into electronic files isn’t a magic act. It requires software and hardware components that can interact harmoniously—something that is easier said than done.

Rick Talcott, a solo family law litigator, has figured out what these components are and how they interact. In Electronic Documents for Litigators, he shares what he knows, describing software and hardware for turning paper into electronic files. To practice what the author preaches, this book is an electronic book: It is published on the Web (at www.technolawyer.com) in Adobe PDF.

Talcott covers the range, from getting started to dealing with electronic transcripts, trial preparation and the costs. You don’t have to be a litigator to benefit from his advice, or have a fat bank account to buy the products he recommends. As I read this e-book, I got the feeling that the author had tried and tested every piece of hardware and software himself, simply because he is a solo. This is refreshing, because much of the material on electronic documents is written by vendors.

Talcott’s advice is straightforward. For example: "If you are going to use electronic documents, you first have to get them into a computer. For paper documents, that’s the scanner’s job." In another instance, he makes it easy to understand why you need to know the difference between the two big file formats—TIF and PDF—if you’re going to get on the right side of electronic documents. "The blunt fact is that PDF files themselves offer more benefits to litigators," Talcott says. Thus, why use TIF? The author does not mince words, and he tells what equipment he himself uses.

He also provides hands-on information for processing case documents. For example, do you know how to Bates stamp electronic files? Talcott tells readers what software can do this for both TIF and PDF files.

Getting documents into the computer, understanding file formats, organizing documents, annotating images and converting images to searchable OCR text—those topics are all here in a short but excellent e-book.

E-paper eliminates many of the costs, hassles and delays involved in managing and archiving hard-copy files. Electronic Documents for Litigators explains how to get the job done—it is a how-to-book.

Note: Law Practice Management Section members can request the e-book at no cost through September 30, 2002, by going to www.technolawyer.com.

Milton W. Zwicker (zwicker@zwickerevanslewis.com) is Managing Partner of Zwicker Evans & Lewis in Orillia, ONT, and the author of Successful Client Newsletters (ABA, 1998).