The end of an era…

In this particular Last Word (Lexpert, 2006), I say good-bye to John Black, the founder of the Lexpert Canadian Legal Directory and Lexpert magazine, and the man who pigeon-holed me–er, groomed me–into a legal affairs writer. If you don’t know John and his history in the Canadian legal landscape, the piece won’t be nearly as interesting to you–unless you’re very, very curious as to how I ended up writing for so many years about law, lawyers, and law firms. Short-hand: it’s all his fault. Long-hand–the full unedited text–follows.

English: Books on legal writing at the law lib...

Photo (Books on legal writing at the law library of the UC Berkeley School of Law) via Wikipedia

LAST WORD: The end of an era…

Lexpert, March 2006

by Marzena Czarnecka

… and I’m not talking about the (final!) demise of our system of one party rule. As the federal Liberals look for a new leader and the Conservatives embark on their long-sought dream of cleaning up the country’s finances (oh, wait… Paul Martin did that), rooting out corruption (go to it, boys and girls), working arm-in-arm with the NDP (proof God and the universe both have a sense of humour) and unveiling Harper’s secret agenda (there’d better be a secret agenda–my livelihood depends on it), we at Lexpert are bidding a different sort of adieu to John Alexander Black, founder, director, publisher, editor… was there a hat he did not wear here?… and Supreme Overlord of the Lexpert Empire.

Now, although he no longer signs my cheques, I daren’t compare John Black to our former federal Liberal Overlords, so any parallels in this story are purely coincidental. I am tempted to say if ever a man was more ruthless than Jean Chretien, that man was John Black… but then I remember the times he overnight couriered my paycheques so I could keep the “first of the month” wolf from the door, or my strong suspicion that the reason he asked me to write my first LAST WORD was because he thought I was starving. But I think he likes to be thought ruthless, so don’t tell him I hinted he has a heart.

I first met John Black in 1998, when I was a pimply-faced inexperienced marketing director and he had already sold most Canadian law firms on the necessity of the Lexpert Directory. He was just launching his first joint venture with American Lawyer–The Top 500 Lawyers in Canada–and musing about Lexpert magazine. Within minutes of our meeting, I knew I was in the presence of genius. Brilliant, I told him admiringly. I may have added something about lemmings and Machiavelli, because he was offended rather than pleased. For the next couple of years, we engaged in covert and overt warfare. His appointed task was to wheedle as much money out of my marketing budget as possible; mine to get as much profile, product, and market intelligence (aka gossip) from him for as little as possible. In each engagement, each of us came away thinking we got more for less… but in the end, I rather suspect the winner was… if not John Black himself, then his baby, Lexpert. He waged similar “battles” with every marketing director and law firm… with very similar results.

Forgive my slipping into war metaphors: if you know John, you know that he channels the great generals of history and one of his fondest wishes is to see law firms apply certain war strategies to law firm management. You know that he takes the “dictum knowledge” is power at face value and that there is very little he doesn’t know, whether it be why the Europeans won the Battle of Lepanto or the newest machinations in the London office of Clifford Chance. I’m sure there must be a newspaper or publication he doesn’t read (maybe Canadian Lawyer?) or a book he hasn’t thumbed through, but the only thing I’ve been able to stump him with is my own obscure master’s thesis. How he finds time to read twelve British newspapers a day–despite being a workaholic who has a dozen projects going at a time (all coming to climax at just about the same time, of course)–I really don’t know. I suspect the man does not sleep. As I know personally from many, many “Marzena, it’s 2 p.m. on Sunday, where the hell are you?” voice mails, he rarely rests (even on those ever-increasing-in-frequency cruises).

Love him or hate him (and we’ve all done both… sometimes within the space of 30 seconds), there is one thing no one in the legal community can take away from John Black. He created Lexpert out of absolutely nothing in an incredibly short amount of time, and he did most of it through sheer force of will. Obviously, Lexpert is not a one-man enterprise. But it has been one man’s vision and to this day it bears the undeniable stamp of one man’s personality. (Unlike the Liberal Party or the post-Preston Manning, post-merger Conservatives–there, no inappropriate parallels here at all).

As we bid adieu to our former Supreme Overlord and close the book on this particular era at Lexpert, I want to thank John for being a ruthless copyeditor, a warm-hearted friend, a Machiavellian entrepreneur, and dispenser of such gems of wisdom as “Close your eyes and think of England.” We’ll miss you… but suspect all the willpower that built Lexpert will soon find another means of separating Canada’s law firms from their cash (I feel ‘em quaking in their boots already).

Marzena Czarnecka is a Lexpert staff writer John Black dredged up from a gutter. She’d like to take this opportunity to apologize for the time her son peed on his office carpet.

• Thomson Reuters article record

Note: They say John Black cried when he read this. I don’t believe it.