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Best Practice: Searching for a First-Time Legal Administrator

Asked and Answered

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

Q. We have a 12-attorney business litigation firm in Springfield. I am part of our three-member management committee and have been charged with helping the firm find and hire our first legal administrator. While we have a bookkeeper who handles our billing and accounting, the rest of the firm's management matters are handled by the management committee. We believe we have reached a size where we need help with managing day-to-day operations. What sort of skill set and type of person should we be looking for?

A. The starting point is to have some heart-to-heart discussions to make sure all partners are on the same page regarding the role the firm wants an administrator to play. Is the firm willing to delegate authority with responsibility and let the administrator really manage the business side of the practice (a true administrator), or are you looking for a lower-level office manager? This will dictate the skill set and type of person you should look for. I suggest you develop a job description listing not only the duties but the authority levels and have every partner sign off on it.

An excellent resource is the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA), the professional trade association for legal administrators. They offer a document listing 56 competencies in the following five categories:

  • Communications and Organizational Management
  • Legal Industry/Business Management
  • Operations Management
  • Financial Management
  • Human Resource Management

Click here to download the document.

ALA also has some helpful information on their website for a law firm looking for an administrator, including articles on evaluating your firm's needsthe candidate search process, and defining the role of the administrator.

Many firms burn through their first administrator quickly and end up having to try again with another person or two. First-time failure is often the result of not determining the role up front and having the partners agree on expectations for and authority level of the administrator.

Do your homework and you will increase the chance of success with your first administrator.

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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 and author of The Lawyers Guide to Succession Planning published by the ABA. 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 February 1, 2017 by Mark S. Mathewson
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