Hiring a Legal Management Professional
Evaluate Your Firm’s Needs
Law firms of every size are evaluating their business management needs and looking to fill those needs with professional managers. A legal administrator enables lawyers to spend more time practicing law and developing business rather than managing the office. Before a professional manager is brought into your firm, be certain the lawyers are ready and willing to relinquish their day-to-day operational responsibilities, and the firm’s culture supports a step in this direction.
It is also helpful to consider factors such as the firm’s need for people who are skilled in specific functional areas such as technology, finance, strategic planning, marketing and client development, and/or staff management.
Qualifications, Skills and Abilities
The Association of Legal Administrators conducted extensive studies and analyses of the legal administrator occupation. Data were collected from hundreds of legal administrators and managing partners, resulting in the identification of the specific competencies critical for successful job performance. In summary, they include:
◾ A thorough understanding of accounting and financial principles. Effectively managing a law firm’s finances means a legal administrator should have a solid understanding of general accounting procedures, financial management and analysis, and tax regulations, as well as the ability to implement solid internal controls and collection and billing procedures.
◾ Strong human relations skills. Human resource management is an important component of a law firm’s overall business success. It is important for a legal administrator to be aware of changing employment laws and the many details relating to recruiting, hiring, compensation, benefits, performance appraisals, discipline and discharge, and labor relations in general. Also, because personnel and fringe benefits are a significant portion of a firm’s operating expense, it is crucial for a legal administrator to be able to manage these important resources effectively.
◾ Knowledge of legal industry matters. This would include matters such as professional liability and conflict of interest.
◾ Technology and project management skills. Rapid advancements in technology point to a strong need for someone who is not only computer literate but also has a solid understanding of systems, software, hardware and peripherals, and can manage or oversee the management of your firm’s equipment and systems.
◾ Communication skills, both written and oral.
◾ Leadership and negotiation skills.
When it comes to educational credentials, many legal administrators are CPAs and/or have advanced degrees. While a college degree should not necessarily be a requirement, it is certainly desirable. However, prior employment within your own or another respected law firm can also provide excellent experience and an understanding of the law firm work environment – and this experience may be as valuable as a college degree. A Certified Legal Manager (CLM)SM* or other professional business designation is another validation of a person’s knowledge and skills. Paralegals, retired military personnel and accounting firm professionals also offer good backgrounds for legal administration. Bottom line: you need to decide what experience, education or business acumen are most important for your legal administrator to have.
Above all, the administrator must fulfill the needs of the firm in a manner consistent with the firm’s purpose, operating philosophy and organizational structure. Legal administrators will expect to be part of a team – either with a management committee, a managing partner or members of some other management structure – who together will create and implement an operational structure that will serve the firm well.
*CLM is a service mark of the Association of Legal Administrators