Must-Have Skills for the Legal Administrator

I’m new to my job managing the daily operations of a law firm, and I’d like to make sure I’m as effective as possible from Week One. What are the main areas I need to excel in?

Savvy administrative skills and legal expertise have always formed the core of the legal administrator’s job description, yet other requirements are always evolving and expanding. For example, according to Robert Half Legal’s Future Law Office report, it’s now becoming common practice for legal office management to take on more non-attorney tasks.

To meet new expectations, improve your game and, perhaps, breathe new life into your career, work on developing these must-have skills for effective law firm management:

Technical Expertise

Technology is transforming the legal field. Law office managers should be well versed in specialized legal software, such as Summation, TrialDirector, Concordance and Relativity, to help keep track of e-discovery, evidence management, billable hours and more. Cloud computing is becoming commonplace, but the practical considerations are especially complicated in the legal world, where confidentiality and security are major concerns for electronically stored information (ESI).

To acquire the technical skills you need to evolve with your firm, consider professional education. The Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) lists several online resources, including training opportunities and webinars for new technology. To stay current on industry IT trends, subscribe to online repositories like Westlaw for access to legal journals and articles.

Financial Knowledge

Don’t panic if you’re suddenly saddled with business responsibilities, such as juggling the firm’s 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 law office.

Interpersonal Skills

Technical and business know-how are important, but so are soft skills. Here are a few that the successful legal administrator needs to possess:

  • Communication: Top-notch written and verbal communication abilities are the foundation of effective law firm management. Work on communicating change effectively, criticizing with care, and offering employees praise and recognition. Good managers also foster good team communication, which is especially important for avoiding problems in the e-discovery and document review process.
  • Team leadership: As a legal administrator, you help set the tone of the office. Boost morale by collectively celebrating personal events and legal victories. Keep stress levels in check by making sure employees use their vacation days, and bringing in temporary legal staff to help during periods of heavy workloads. 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, as a whole, to become even more successful in the future.
  • Flexibility: A smart manager knows that adapting to change is a big part of improving productivity and recruiting and retaining talent. Effective law firm management could mean arranging ways for more flextime and telecommuting, the most important incentive for seven out of 10 lawyers interviewed for a Robert Half Legal survey. Make remote work more efficient and productive by learning about and recommending mobile technology and collaborative software.

The role of a legal administrator demands a broader skill set than ever before. The Certified Legal Manager (CLM) certification recognizes this diversity of expertise by requiring at least two hours of coursework in each of the five management categories — writing skills, communication (verbal) skills, self-management skills, IT and organizational development — before taking the exam. Certification is a good way to confirm your expertise and identify any areas for self-improvement. It’s also a good investment for your employer: Firms with certified employees enjoy discounts on liability insurance. To become a better legal administrator, make sure you stay up-to-date with these and other must-have skills for effective law firm management.