Hiring a Legal Management Professional
The Candidate Search Process
There are a number of ways to recruit candidates. Advertisements in daily or legal newspapers can be effective. Be prepared to invest what may be a significant amount of time for screening and interviewing. Consulting organizations will recruit and screen candidates for you and charge a placement fee. Usually the fees are a percentage of the hired person’s compensation during his or her first year with your firm.
A firm may also solicit candidates through the Association of Legal Administrators’ Job Bank, which offers firms a timely and cost-effective way to advertise positions. Job bank advertisements are posted in ALA’s Job Bank and are accessed by hundreds of legal management professionals.
Interviewing and Reference-checking
Even before the interview process, an effective job description can help ensure you are attracting the right candidates. It is critical that you clearly and accurately articulate your firms’ needs and what you require of a team member. This Legal Management article (PDF)provides some guidelines for writing effective job descriptions.
Potential conflicts in management styles may be eliminated if there is an understanding of expectations by the law firm and the legal administrator. (See “Creating the Role of the Legal Management Professional" section.) The firm’s history and assets, job requirements and the administrator’s personal qualities should be thoroughly discussed during the interview. The interviewer should also provide a clear understanding of the law firm’s philosophy, goals, objectives and the different personalities within the firm.
At an appropriate time in the search process, the firm should undertake a thorough investigation of the preferred candidate. Character references and an understanding of the candidate’s style, work ethic and “soft skills” will also be helpful. If evaluating reasons for an administrator’s termination, be alert for scenarios where mutual expectations were not well-identified, where the administrator was given responsibilities but not the authority to carry them out, or where the termination was the result of a merger or downsizing of operations. In instances like these, the termination of employment may have had nothing to do with the administrator’s abilities.
How much an administrator should be paid depends on the size of the firm, the geographic location and the scope of the position to be filled. There are a number of surveys and studies that can help you determine a compensation package. One of them is the Association of Legal Administrators’ annual Compensation and Benefits Survey, which provides data from hundreds of firms and covers more than two dozen administrative/managerial positions found in law offices. The survey is available for purchase through ALA by contacting the headquarters office at 847.267.1252 or by ordering online.
Law firms should expect their administrator to perform at a professional level and the compensation should match. Administrator earnings are often comparable to a senior associate or junior partner. In addition to salary and fringe benefits, legal administrators should be given every opportunity to increase their knowledge and expand their network through memberships in professional associations and continuing educational opportunities.
Once you’ve hired an administrator and that person has been on staff for a few months, plan to conduct performance reviews at regular intervals (at least annually). Performance feedback is extremely important for the administrator, and the review process should culminate in a face-to-face meeting that provides an opportunity for candid discussion between the administrator and the managing partner or a person in a similar capacity. This process will help the administrator better serve the firm and adapt to your needs. Obviously, good performance should warrant a salary adjustment or bonus to recognize efforts to date and renew enthusiasm for the coming months.