May/June 2002

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Edited by Milton W. Zwicker

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

Step-by-step navigation for law firm captains. Principles of lawyer and staff compensation plans.

Attorney and Law Firm Guide to the Business of Law: Planning and Operating for Survival and Growth Edward Poll. 2nd ed. (ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Section, 2002.) $119.95.ISBN: 1-57073-991-9.


Do you dream of being captain of your own law firm? Perhaps you have held back because you lack practical skills to manage the ship? Take heart. Edward Poll has written a comprehensive systems manual for you. This smoothly written second edition of Attorney and Law Firm Guide to the Business of Law will benefit both novice and experienced lawyers.

Poll, a respected columnist and management consultant, is an authority you can quote on the planning, survival and growth of law firms. He perceives that lawyers require marketing, technical and financial competencies. And he is not just another firm management guru gone bananas. He has spent 25 years practicing law.

If you are inside a firm, then the sections on organizing work, using technology, improving client relations, pricing legal services and staffing risks and responsibilities warrant reading. If you want to be a captain, read the entire book closely. It has details on planning, opening, operating, growing and moving a law office.

Poll’s writing is sophisticated but not stuffy. He is direct. He tells you what your goals should be: attract clients, provide quality work and get paid. His sensible voice has a motivational tone, and he provides action steps and case studies. There are not a lot of personal stories. He does not describe the panic a lawyer feels when clients stop coming in or refuse to pay their bills. But he does have good ideas to prevent the problems. You sense that he has been there and can steer you away from rocky shores.

Chapters reinforce the theme that lawyers should be marketing constantly. I like Poll’s gutsy style in saying, "Marketing begins from the moment you wake to the moment you go to sleep." To some, that may seem crass; to others, it is obvious. For those struggling, it is enlightening.

Here is another favorite: "Every moment spent not trying to find new work is a lost opportunity." You do not, though, have to agree with Poll’s marketing advice to find this book a best buy. He reviews advantages and disadvantages of many techniques and strategies. Jargon-free remedies for everyday law firm problems are at readers’ fingertips. The book offers clear and concise coverage of fundamentals in one volume. It includes, for example, line-by-line analysis of a cash flow statement. (The secret is making cash flow.) Counting the appendices included on a disk, Guide to the Business of Law has 52 chapters. Plenty of nuggets will surface from weekly reading.

What can be wrong with a volume of such excellence? This edition has credits for contributors with specialized knowledge. It makes the book more valuable as a reference but slightly uneven in parts. That factor doesn’t lessen the book’s enjoyment. In anything 600 pages long, you would expect huge highs and lows. But they never materialize. This is a book that you will want to read—and re-read.

Is it missing anything? Perhaps, but what more do you need? Other books cover checklists and sample letters. Be glad the client essentials—billing, bonding and branding—are well covered.

Practicing law is like sailing a ship. You need to avoid danger and keep afloat. In good times you sail, in bad times you bail. If you control your practice, you will be free to sail the clear blue, wherever you want. My testimonial for this book is, "Aye, aye, Captain."

Edward Olkovich ( is a Toronto lawyer and author.

Compensation Plans for Law Firms Edited by James D. Cotterman. Altman Weil, Inc. 3rd ed. (ABA Law Practice Management Section, 2001.) $89.95; LPM Section members: $74.95. PC: 511-0452.


Compensation is the glue that binds law firms together. Is there a single system that treats all lawyers "fairly," thereby ensuring the cohesive continuation of the firm? Compensation Plans for Law Firms does not describe a perfect system. It more realistically describes the elements, structure and administration of compensation plans, providing managing partners and compensation committees with the tools to review the systems currently used in their firms.

In its five chapters, this third edition covers the elements of a compensation plan review. The checklist begins with ownership and continues with seniority; pro bono; teaching, writing and speaking; collegiality and team play; training; expertise; fees collected; client retention; origination; profitability; participation in community activities; and quality and production. The compensation review is important if the firm seeks to reward the performance of lawyers who contribute to the firm’s efforts to meet its goals.

The book’s five appendices look at allocation of client production credit, capitalization, debt and taxes, retirement planning, benefits and exempt employees.

Compensation Plans for Law Firms provides a good overview of the factors involved in compensating partners and shareholders, of counsel or retiring counsel, associates and staff members. It uses substantive language and illustrations, and it will serve as a benchmark to see where your firm stands on salaries and bonuses.

This new edition does demonstrate the difficulty an author-editor faces when attempting to write for a current market. For example, it discusses the dramatically inflated associate salaries of recent years and the steps firms took to remain competitive in the market. With the subsequent decrease in law firm revenues, the number of associates in many firms has been reduced, and the market has once again moved in the direction of buyers. The book also is light on examples of actual compensation plans or related forms. You will have to seek other sources for that information.

It is, however, easy to understand and provides a reasonable starting point for a firm interested in tackling compensation issues before they destroy the fabric of the firm. It will be a useful addition to the libraries of enlightened law firms.

Austin G. Anderson ( is a principal in the AndersonBoyer Group, a law firm consulting organization based in Ann Arbor, MI.