Why Successful Law Firms Must Hire Administrators

May 2, 2018 7:00:00 AM / by Jennifer Roberts


Four Reasons for Investing in an Administrator to Lighten the Managing Partner’s Load

It’s a common grievance among managing partners and other law firm leaders – the tasks of running a business while also practicing law are too much to bear together.

Even in successful law firms, there is a profit ceiling that proves difficult to shatter when the attorneys can’t unite behind a singular vision for the firm.

It stands to reason that a leader whose job is to lead could make a difference toward that goal. But when the leader is wrapped up in daily administrative chores and/or a demanding caseload every day, there’s little time left for shoring up a vision.

This is a frustration that law firms live with for years, underscoring an age-old adage – nothing changes if nothing changes.

Today, we’re going to look at one change law firms could (and, we argue, should) implement if they want to reach the next level of success. But it’s a change that many partners resist – hiring a law firm administrator.

Below, we offer four reasons for hiring a law firm administrator, and why it isn’t as difficult, expensive, or wasteful as you might think.


1. You Can’t Be Both CEO and COO.

There’s a reason those jobs have different names.

In the business world, corporations are led by many different people with fairly well-defined responsibilities. All of these people are working under the leadership of a (hopefully) visionary head honcho, the CEO.

But in the law firm, that model gets mangled. The managing partner acts as CEO while also performing the duties of the COO, several vice presidents, and even an employee or three.

We submit that a more successful model is one in which a law firm administrator functions as the COO. This provides for the COO to shepherd the firm’s daily operations while the managing partner assumes a decidedly executive role.

Having two separate people fill the CEO and COO positions is good for everyone. It frees the managing partner to give the firm what it really needs (leadership) without running the risk of operational concerns slipping through the cracks.

Of course, this requires that you invest some real trust in your administrator and then leave them to do their job, but that is as it should be. We’ll cover this concept more in the sections to follow.

Essentially, our call to law firms is one we repeat across many topics, from marketing to management, billing, and beyond – always think of your law firm as a business and then run it like one.


2. A Law Firm Administrator’s Salary Is an Investment.

“But hiring a law firm administrator will cost us too much money.”

That’s the reflexive response, and it’s understandable. Keeping an eye on expenditures isn’t just human nature; it’s responsible.

But it is also important to distinguish mere overhead from an investment in your firm’s future. We think the right administrator falls squarely in the latter camp.

To that point, we cite another old adage – it takes money to make money.

Even if your law firm brings in plenty of cash, business growth means making more cash or at least having a means or mechanism for getting there.

Operationally speaking, if your firm is currently at capacity, then you’re looking at a plan for stagnation, not a plan for growth.

So, do you want to keep making the same amount of money while also feeling burned out and overwhelmed as your law firm’s CEO? Or do you want to capitalize on the success you’ve found so far and continue to grow?

If growth is your goal, we recommend not only that you consider paying for a law firm administrator but that you even pay them well. Attracting top talent can pay off.


3. Administrators Represent a Diversity-in-Leadership Opportunity for High-Profile Law Firms.

Though diversity is increasing among managing partner roles across the country, most law firms are still managed by men (usually men of a certain profile in terms of both ethnicity and race). By recruiting a woman, a younger leader, and/or a person of color as your law firm administrator, you have a prime opportunity to introduce some critical diversity to the leadership of your firm.

From a public relations perspective, the value of diversity hires speaks for itself. This fact is certainly of interest to high-profile firms that can land better clients and better employees by making a commitment to diversity. Doing so also fulfills a moral imperative as well.

But just as importantly, diversity hiring offers real leadership benefits. Studies consistently show that leaders with different backgrounds and perspectives can bring insights and ideas to the table that “cut from the same cloth” leadership often lacks.


4. The Administrator Doesn’t Have to Be a Lawyer.

Law firm administrators tend to be non-attorneys, and that idea doesn’t always sit well with members of the bar.

The fear is that lawyers won’t want to submit to the vision or authority of a non-attorney, or that people without a legal background simply lack adequate context for leading an enterprise as specialized as a law firm.

To that notion, we raise three rebuttals:

  1. We’re talking about hiring a law firm administrator, not a managing partner. The MP is still the COO, and as an attorney, he or she will still lead.
  2. There is no rule requiring that administrators be non-attorneys. For that matter, there might be a brilliant former lawyer out there who was never well suited to practice but for whom administrative leadership is a real calling.
  3. Many large and successful law firms have hired non-lawyers as administrators and seen great success, dispelling the myth of incompatibility.

Of course, the administrator’s success will depend in large part on the role you allow them to have. They need to feel they are valued and respected, and that the managing partner is on their same team.

Remember, you hire a law firm administrator not for their legal prowess but for their business or managerial prowess. So respect that prowess, and lead your team and your attorneys to respect it too.

So much of leadership is simply being able to task the right people for the right job. That’s something we know about at LexInsight. We help law firm managers and administrators find contract attorneys and eDiscovery professionals who meet the demands of any given project or case. Take your practice to the next level by bringing the right people on board through LexInsight today.


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Topics: Law Firm

Jennifer Roberts

Written by Jennifer Roberts

Jennifer Roberts is the Director of Marketing for LexInsight. When she's not spreading the word about LexInsight, you can find her running half marathons, dancing Argentine tango, or writing about wine.