Taking the Lead: Learning from Ed

Engaging Your People

In Taking the Lead, Law Practice Editorial Board members Ed Flitton and Karen MacKay have tackled the ins and outs of running a law firm, providing expert guidance that every managing partner can use.

In the few short years that I had the great privilege of knowing Ed Flitton, my coauthor on Law Practice’s Taking the Lead column, I found that he was a man filled with pearls of wisdom. I’ve known him as a colleague, as a mentor and as a friend, and in remembrance share some stories of him here.

Karen MacKay

by Karen MacKay, MBA, CHIC

The colleague.

Ed had a wonderful ability to put things in perspective. I once got an e-mail from him regarding a project we were working on, after I had just returned from three days of PGA Golf School. His quick note to me had two parts: First was the question “how’s your handicap?” and second was a question about the project. I made the mistake of replying on the project only. Ed’s response: “Okay, let me try again—how’s your handicap?” In this crazy professional world, where “busy” is the common answer to “how are you?” Ed had a wonderfully balanced viewpoint. As further evidence, just the week before he passed away so suddenly in March, I was trying to book a meeting with him and a client with whom we were embarking on a new project. Keeping life in perspective again, he humorously sent me this: “Tuesday I head for Aspen with a couple of buddies for a few days of skiing, talking, eating and drinking (believe it or not, the priorities are in that order).”

As a colleague on this magazine’s editorial board and other projects, too, Ed participated fully as I’m sure he did in every other role in his life. He always worked hard, challenged the thinking in the group by asking good questions, and basically helped others bring their A-game and cheered them on as they did.

The mentor.

While Ed and I took turns writing our respective Taking the Lead columns, we always collaborated on them from the idea through to the writing. And we always reviewed each other’s work. Those of you who have read the various installments will know we had different perspectives, so his input and critique were always fun to receive. Here was Ed’s critique of my last submission: “Substantively, remember that managing partners are usually very concrete guys, not good with abstract concepts and sensitivity. That leads to two thoughts: First, I hear you, Karen, but what am I supposed to do about this? How is an MP supposed to stimulate the kind of behavior you describe? Can you describe what an MP should be doing to reach these goals?” The outcome was a top 10 list of specific actions an MP could use right away. His second comment: “You refer to emotional intelligence. What the hell is that? Can you define it for us?” So of course I did.

Ed could cut to the chase and get right to the point. I could be equally blunt with his submissions, I admit—and we both recognized how that honest collaboration always ended up in a better product.

The friend.

I first met Ed at an ABA LPM Section meeting in Miami. I had a tee time booked at the Doral Golf Resort for the afternoon following our meeting. Having heard my plans, Ed leaned over part way through the meeting and asked if I would like a golf buddy for the round. That’s how our friendship began. And it’s amazing what you can learn about a person over 18 holes and 4 hours.

One thing especially stands out about that afternoon. Like many golf courses, the Doral is developed with a wide range of large beautiful homes on it. Ed’s measure of the warmth of a house, I learned that day, was to count the number of places where a person might curl up with a good book. The big, modern homes that could be cast as a colorful crime scene on “CSI Miami” didn’t make the cut. Instead, it was the homes with verandas, cozy kitchens and fireplaces that scored high on his warmth meter. I think of that often as I look at homes being built, and how some score high on the warmth meter and others not so much. It was another lesson from Ed on how to keep what’s valuable in perspective.

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Thanks, Ed, for this and many other pearls of wisdom.


This article originally appeared in the May/June 2010 edition of Law Practice magazine, a publication of the American Bar Association. Copyright © Phoenix Legal