Hiring a Legal Administrator
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 program, ALA Management ConnectionsSM, which
offers firms a timely and cost-effective way to advertise positions.
Job bank advertisements are posted in ALA’s Career Center
and are accessed by hundreds of legal management professionals.
Potential conflicts in management styles may be eliminated if there is
an understanding of expectations by the law firm and the legal administrator.
(See “Defining the Administrator’s Role” 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
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.