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Best Practice: Is it better to have law firm administrator with HR or financial background?

Asked and Answered

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. Our firm is an 18-attorney firm based in San Diego. We are considering hiring our first legal administrator and have interviewed several candidates and have narrowed our search down to two candidates. One candidate has a strong financial background and has worked as a director of administration in several very large firms - 200 plus attorneys. The other candidate has a strong HR background, a weaker financial background, and has worked as a firm administrator in two different law firms - a 30 attorney firm and a 20 attorney firm. We like both candidates. Which candidate would you lean toward?

A. I would lean toward the administrator that worked for the smaller law firms. Having worked in smaller firms this candidate would be a more hands on administrator which is what a firm your size needs. In a firm your size, the critical need is people management and leadership. As long as the candidate has a working knowledge of accounting, the candidate should do fine with the oversight of your firm. If you have to you can supplement any accounting deficiencies with outside resources - you can't outsource people management. 

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, ( is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at

Posted on March 9, 2016 by Chris Bonjean
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