I just accepted a new job managing the daily operations of a law firm, and I need to ensure that I’m as effective as possible from Week One. What are the main areas I need to excel in?
1. Technical expertise
While administrative, leadership and legal expertise have always formed the core of the legal administrator’s job description, other skills are growing in importance. To meet new expectations, consider developing these three must-have skills:
As technology continues to transform the legal field, legal administrators need to be well versed in specialized legal software that helps to keep track of e-discovery, evidence management, billable hours and more. And while many firms rely on cloud computing, the practical considerations are especially complicated in the legal world, where client confidentiality and data security are major concerns.
If your technical skills are in need of improvement, consider professional education. The Online Learning center offered by the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) provides many resources, including podcasts, webinars and conference recordings. Legal industry blogs, journals and publications also are helpful for staying current with tech trends that affect the profession.
2. Financial knowledge
Don’t panic if you’re suddenly saddled with business responsibilities, such as managing the firm’s operational budget, monitoring client accounts or suggesting new sources of revenue. You can boost your financial savvy by attending ALA teaching sessions and lectures on business management, finance and accounting. You can also reach out to the accounting department to learn more about the inner financial workings of your firm.
3. Interpersonal skills
Tech skills and business know-how are important abilities for law firm leaders, but so are soft skills. Here are several skills that every successful legal administrator should possess:
- Communication: Top-notch written and verbal communication abilities are essential for law firm managers. Work on ways to communicate change effectively, or offer constructive criticism, praise and recognition. A good manager also helps the team foster good communication, which is especially important during fast-paced matters, such as e-discovery and document review.
- Team leadership: As a legal administrator, you help establish the office culture. Celebrate team milestones, personal events and legal victories to boost morale. Make sure employees use their vacation days to help reduce stress levels and consider bringing in legal professionals on a temporary, project or consulting basis during periods of heavy caseloads. A good leader also thinks ahead. In addition to managing the day-to-day activities of the legal team, don’t forget to strategize ways for the firm, in general, to become even more successful in the future.
- Flexibility: Savvy legal managers know that adapting to change is integral to improving productivity and recruiting and retaining top talent. This could mean implementing flexible work arrangements or making remote work more efficient and productive for legal teams by researching mobile technology and collaborative software.
The role of a legal administrator demands a broader skillset than ever before. To be effective at your job and improve your future career prospects, make time for continuing legal education, stay current with industry developments and continue to hone your interpersonal skills.