Published: 2012-06-22

Legal Administrators

When it comes to management at law firms, management does not simply refer to case management. It is also connotes the fact that law firms are businesses. Therefore, lawyers must also manage the business aspects of the firm, including payroll, purchasing supplies, and human resources. However, most lawyers are not specifically trained to handle the business side and would prefer to stick to the legal matters. Even if one were to delegate those responsibilities to a paralegal or legal secretary, either of those people may also have inadequate experience or education.

The solution? Hire an administrator. A law firm of any size can benefit from having an administrator to manage the business matters, even the small ones. However, for the administrator to be truly beneficial for the small law firm, one should consider the amount of time it takes for all the attorneys at the firm to manage the business half of the firm. If the time spent multiplied by the hourly billing rate is equal to or greater than the cost of hiring an administrator, then having one around will be an asset. Even if the total cost for time spent on the administrative functions of the firm is less than hiring an administrator, an administrator might be worth it in the long run if the firm is planning on expanding. Furthermore, because attorneys and legal staff do not always understand the business and administrative functions of the firm, it leaves the door open to inefficient handling of those functions and additional time lost if those matters are handled improperly for one reason or another.

Nevertheless, when it comes to hiring an administrator, what should one look for? At the very least, however, the administrator should be able to handle human resources, financial management, internal communication efforts, and facilities and operations.

Human resources duties consist of the hiring and supervising of support staff, as well as employee benefits and compensation. Financial strength may be important, but how that strength is managed is what will determine success in the long run. As far as hiring goes, this can be left to the firm's hiring partner, but the administrator can certainly help in getting rid of the unqualified candidates beforehand. This will free up valuable time that the hiring partner can devote to more pressing issues.

External communication with clients, opposing counsel, and the courts is essential for a successful litigation case. However, internal communication is equally important, because leaving someone out of the loop can lead to feelings that he/she is not contributing to the firm's success. Perhaps the worst thing you can do to a person is to isolate him/her. Isolation can lead to damaged relations, and that is when internal problems arise. Therefore, the administrator can assist with maintaining solid internal communication so that miscommunication will be kept to a minimum.

Management of the facilities and operations includes maintaining office equipment, ordering supplies, and organizing records. Although these tasks probably do not take very long individually, they can add up over time. As such, the administrator will be able to deal with all of these matters, which can distract attorneys from their practices.

Also, a list of what the firm needs and how the administrator can help should be created. That way, the responsibilities and qualifications for the right person will be set. For example, if the administrator will be managing the firm's payroll and tax filing, a degree in accounting would be desirable, as well as some field experience.

Patience and strong interpersonal skills should also be necessary, as lawyers can be a demanding lot to work with on a daily basis. After all, high stress levels over prolonged periods of time do not help someone who is trying to keep calm and composed. This will also help determine if the person's demeanor and personality will be a good fit for the firm.

One place to start looking for a good administrator is the website for the Association of Legal Administrators. The association's sole purpose is to improve the management in legal service organizations and maintain a standard of professionalism for legal administrators.