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The Changing Role of the Legal Administrator

Posted by Bill M. Friday, March 20, 2015 3 Comments

Across the industry, the role of the legal administrator is changing. The significant economic, client-driven, and technological changes that have affected the practice are in turn affecting how firms structure their administrative support. The type of change is driven by many factors (firm size, practice focus, etc.), but the results are ranging from a reduction in responsibilities to the elimination of the role completely.

The administrator position (although individual titles vary) originated by serving a pivotal role as the attorney’s “go to” person to solve any challenge or manage any project. While still common in smaller firms, advances in technology and the growing complexity of other administrative functions (Marketing, HR, etc.) has created the need for functional specialists which has slowly but surely changed the traditional role of the administrator.

In response, many firms are seeking to redesign the role of the administrator. This is particularly the case at larger firms. In some instances, this actually results in the elimination of the administrator position. When this occurs, others at the office and firm level receive responsibilities formerly performed by the administrator. More commonly, responsibilities of the administrator are narrowed which is often accompanied by a freeze or reduction in compensation.

The duties that most often remain are those related to human resources and personnel management. Reinforcing this trend is the tendency of firms to seek individuals with HR certifications to fill vacant administrator positions.

In response to this trend, many administrators have pursued additional training and certifications to facilitate their transition toward alternative career paths. Several roles are seeing rapid adoption across the industry. Project management, pricing, and practice group management, are just a few examples of roles that traditional administrators, with a small amount of preparation, can be particularly well suited to pursue.

While traditionally a vital role, the significant changes across the legal industry are clearly having an effect on the role of the administrator. As with most industry trends, it begins at larger firms before moving to smaller, but since the factors fueling the trend seem to be permanent, I suspect this trend is as well. While this reality may feel like bad news to those directly affected, the silver lining is many administrators have a wealth of knowledge and experience which remains a valuable commodity. My hope is that firms recognize this value as they restructure their administrative support.

As always, I look forward to receiving your comments or reactions.

William D. Mech, Principal
ofPartner Consulting Services
+1 312.720.6145

©2015 ofPartner LLC

3 Responses to The Changing Role of the Legal Administrator

  1. Wendy says:

    Good points Bill. thanks


  2. p says:

    Interesting read. Personally, I don’t think the administrator position should be eliminated as there will always be a need (nerve center) within a firm to coordinate and maximize firm resources. Lawyers need to practice and administrators need to handle the business. For firms that eliminate the administrator role, I tend to believe that either the administrator role was not clear (lack of job description, skill, etc) or the administrator was misused/ not aligned with firm goals from the beginning. The elimination of the administrator is short-sighted and I just don’t see how it can be done for the long run with the industry changes. If anything the addition of functional specialists support the need to have an administrator. Law firms are complex and will continue to get more complex as they compete.

  3. Holly Bratton says:

    Bill, you are confirming what some of us have probably been seeing in the larger law firms most recently. However, I am hoping law firms will not just look at eliminating the positions of Office Manager/Administrator but actually expanding the role. There are times when managers wind up doing work that others can do (maybe more administrative in nature) – – and that work should be delegated. No sense in paying the higher price; however, this leaves room for more substantive work. In larger law firms, office administrators can help with certain initiatives or projects that the firm takes on, as you mentioned in your article; however, I am suggesting that the position stay in-tact and take on more work in other areas of the law firm (AP, AR, marketing, business development). If, however, the duties are limited to HR and workflow, then perhaps managing several offices (even if not in close proximity). While it is certainly understandable that cost-cutting measures should always be entertained, office managers usually have experience and know-how that others may not be well-suited for. Just because someone else CAN do something doesn’t mean they SHOULD.

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