Herding Cats

A handbook for managing partners
and practice group leaders


Give a synonym test and the words most closely associated with Managing Partner might very well be leader, charisma, and visionary. Now ask a respected managing partner, with a few years of experience, what words are most closely associated and you are likely to hear terms like coach, servant, and friend.

Whether in service to your firm as a managing partner or even someone who has the responsibility for heading up a practice group, by now you will have heard all of the common cliches about how the job of working with and managing other professionals is akin to being the only fire hydrant on a street of dogs, like lighting your hair and then putting the fire out with a hammer, like nailing jello to the wall, pushing string across a table, or (the one we most commonly hear quoted) "like herding cats."

This handbook is intended to be a catalyst to provoke your thinking and provide you with a working reference of what the job really entails. You will find no pompous concepts spelling out the quick-fix leadership awakening diet. There are no arrogant value judgments proposing one type of firm culture, compensation system, or leadership personality as being more desirable, superior, or effective than any other.

What we hope you will find is a rich menu of practical and inspiring examples drawn from our focus group research with managing partners throughout North America, our client assignments internationally, and our practice group leadership workshops that demonstrate the "best practices" focus of those who effectively get extraordinary results within their firms.

This handbook offers a set of leadership practices that are based on the real-world experiences of those actively responsible for "Herding Cats!"


  • Your Introduction To Cat Herding
  • When Leaders Are At Their Best
  • Get To Know Each Individual Cat
  • Become An Enthusiastic Change Agent
  • Provide A Living Example
  • Support Practice Group Collaboration
  • Avoid The Quick Fixes
  • Achieve Hard Results In A Hurry
  • Make Sure Everyone Knows The Business
  • Crank Up The Communication Effort
  • Sweat The Small Stuff
  • Focus On Innovation, Not Fixing
  • Build Your Skills Inventory
  • Encourage Continuous Abandonment
  • Avoid Tolerating Mediocrity
  • Remove The Obstacles
  • Be Generous With Providing Recognition
  • Track and Celebrate Accomplishments


"This work is an arrow to the heart of the leadership matter. In the competitive environment faced by professionals today, classic management styles of the past simply don't work anymore. This incredibly pragmatic work by McKenna and Riskin is not only valuable, but crucial. If there's a more useful or practical view of the situation than you or I might have thought of, you can bet that these two will have found it - - and you'll find it in this comprehensive spectrum of leadership guidelines for the professional practitioner. Any firm leaders who do not learn what's in this handbook can expect to be surpassed in the marketplace by those who do."
Bruce W. Marcus, author, Competing For Clients In The '90s.

"Herding Cats is both profound and practical. There exists no better guide to influencing and leading professionals. This is must reading."
David H. Maister, author, Managing The Professional Service Firm and True Professionalism


"When I first received Herding Cats, I put it aside for vacation reading. When I picked it up again, I read it from cover to cover and said 'WOW - - what great ideas and thoughts.' I immediately ordered a copy for each of our department chairs and practice group leaders. For me, the most powerful idea in the publication is 'Focusing on innovating - - not fixing.' This single idea has changed the way we manage our firm."
John S. Oyler, Managing Partner, McNees Wallace & Nurick

"This handbook is just the ticket for busy Management Committee lawyers in the firm - a quick read but far from shallow. More like a fast, cool dip in the deep end - and just as refreshing."
David Cruickshank, Director of Professional Development, Gowling Strathy & Henderson

"After I finished reading Herding Cats, I did what any good leader would do - - I ordered 30 more copies for our practice groups. You will not find as much wisdom and experience about law firm management in any other single place."
Joseph V. Walker, President & Chief Executive Officer, Plunkett & Cooney

"You must have been spending considerable time in our office to be aware of so many of the issues that affect us. I ordered multiple copies of Herding Cats to circulate among my partners, which lent the voice of authority to many of the decisions made. For a relatively small volume, there is considerable content and substance."
Robert Cohen, Managing Partner, Blaney McMurtry Stapells Friedman

"Herding Cats succinctly presents basic management and leadership principles that are all too often forgotten. It is an easy and quick read and probably should be read a few times a year by anyone who leads a law firm or a practice group within a law firm."
Lawrence Gerber, Managing Partner McDermott Will & Emery

"I certainly enjoyed reading your original publication Herding Cats and I must confess I have heard it more accurately described recently as 'more akin to herding Tigers'. I feel that your publication brings together in a clear and concise manner some of the fundamental issues that face those involved in managing professional service firms."
John Churchill, Managing Partner Dunhill Madden Butler (Australia)


"Forget the latest business blockbuster and the management theory-of-the-month club, Herding Cats has more practical, usable information on leading a professional service firm than anything I've come across in years. It's a half-hour reading investment that pays off with a recommitment to innovation, communication, and true leadership."
William L. Matthews, Managing Partner Plante & Moran, LLP

"A number of our practice leaders have shared Herding Cats with both their clients and the professional staff in their offices. The book provides many helpful 'compass' guidelines that allow leaders to 'set their courses' and navigate their ways through critical practice leadership issues. The partners in our group find Herding Cats to be uniquely on point in addressing their needs as leaders in a highly-matrixed, consultative, professional services organization."
R. Todd Rossel, National Director of Human Resources
Management Solutions & Services, Deloitte & Touche LLP

"Herding Cats has been a real hit and an inspiration . . . Your insights cut across the spectrum of human nature, giving something of value to every reader."
Donald J. Figura, Managing Partner, Wolf & Company

"Leadership is a critical issue in today's professional services company. As firms move to a more corporate environment, the advice and commentary in Herding Cats is not only essential but helps the firm leader maintain perspective. It's a must read for every practice leader."
Jim Fitzpatrick, Partner, McGladrey & Pullen and Director of the McGladrey Network

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