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As a company’s legal needs change, managing attorneys and general counsel should consider how much time they spend on administrative tasks that take time away from client matters and managing outside counsel. Employing a legal administrator allows certain tasks to be delegated, freeing up attorney time for more substantial matters. It would be nice if there were hard-and-fast rules about when it’s time to hire an administrator, for example, when you get to X number of attorneys. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula or rule. What normally drives law departments to hire their first administrator is a fear that things are slipping through the cracks — a fear that usually peaks when turnover rises or morale plunges. What can administrators do? In corporate or government law departments, administrators have assumed increasing stature and responsibility. The functional responsibilities of law department administrators vary, but typically cover management and oversight for these areas: • General office business administration: including policies and procedures such as operational processes and file management; • Financial management: financially oriented tasks such as budgeting and business/financial planning, invoice tracking, and payment; • Human resources management: professional and support staff recruitment and supervision, compensation, and benefits; • Systems management: tasks related to information technology; • Facilities management: space assignments to nonlawyer personnel, maintenance and housekeeping, etc.; and • Special projects: projects such as client surveys and retreats. Depending on experience, law department administrators may also perform more complex work, such as strategy for outside counsel management. THE RIGHT PERSON There are many factors to consider when evaluating candidates. In 1995, the Association of Legal Administrators conducted an extensive study and analysis of the occupation, and identified 47 competencies in these categories: • Strong human relations skills • Communication skills, both written and oral • Knowledge of legal industry matters • Leadership skills • Technology and project management skills. Today’s law department administrators must have a good understanding of related technology and how it can benefit the law department. • Accounting skills. Law department administrators need to understand accounting and financial principles. They especially need the ability to implement solid internal controls and collection and billing procedures. Sounds like common sense, right? What sets good candidates apart from ideal candidates are the following characteristics: • The ability to accomplish tasks. As an implementer, the administrator is a problem solver who gets things done. Whether it’s completing the budget, recruiting for a replacement paralegal, or preparing agendas for senior staff meetings, the administrator can be trusted to accomplish goals and not let anything fall through the cracks. • Negotiation skills. A good administrator must be able to mediate between the conflicting demands of lawyers and staff; between lawyers; or between staff units and clients on such matters as budgets, promotions, and compensation. This person needs good judgment to know when to fight and when to compromise. • Familiarity with the company. An administrator must know whom to go to for help and what resources are available within the company. According to the 2003 Law Department Legal Administrator Compensation Survey(March 2003, Altman Weil Publications Inc.), more than 60 percent of administrators are hired from within the organization. Compensation Questions Finally, when the law department’s needs are reviewed and the candidates are being interviewed, do you know how much to offer? How do you justify to corporate human resources that a legal administrator is worth X amount of money when this is a new position? Consulting secondary legal-specific compensation surveys is a good start. They are not, of course, the only tool. No survey can measure all of the special requirements and duties that distinguish one specific position from another. However, survey data can help position compensation within an industry and a region. This data is just a starting point, since compensation should depend on an individual’s day-to-day responsibilities, training, length of employment and performance, as well as the internal equities of a corporate compensation system. The recently released compensation survey by Altman Weil indicates that the average national compensation (salary and bonus) is $89,000. Some administrators are paid as much as $130,000. Compensation depends on a number of factors, including department size, type of industry, and geographic location. Survey data reveal that total cash compensation for a department of more than 50 lawyers can be up to 50 percent higher than administrator compensation for a department with fewer than 15 lawyers. The Association of Legal Administrators reports compensation and benefits for administrative positions at hundreds of law firms and law departments. (The ALA’s survey is available by contacting the headquarters office at (847) 816-1212 or Most important, the law department must balance what it finds in surveys with day-to-day responsibilities and expectations. What if the “right” number is not one with which the department, or the company, is comfortable? Then reassess the law department’s needs, and compromise where possible. Legal administrators should be reviewed at regular intervals — at least annually. Performance feedback is extremely important because it provides an opportunity for candid discussions that help administrators better understand expectations. Good administrators will more than pay for themselves through the consistent application of good management skills. And if you leave your administrator alone to do the job, you will free yourself and other lawyers of unnecessary administrative burdens, so you can focus on serving your clients. Debra L. Rhodunda is a consultant with Altman Weil’s Law Department Consulting Group specializing in law department benchmarking and client surveys, market research, and organizational diagnostic projects. She works out of the firm’s headquarters in suburban Philadelphia, and can be reached at (610) 886-2033 or [email protected]. The2003 Law Department Legal Administrator Compensation Survey is available at (888) 782-7297 or

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