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The perfect law firm administrator is equal parts financial analyst, human resources specialist, information tech and marketing guru — roles that don’t necessarily require a J.D. Firms of all sizes are hiring non-lawyer administrators to handle the daily business aspects of their legal practice. But when the Philadelphia Bar Association’s midsize law firm management committee met last week to discuss the growing importance of administrators, it was clear that they aren’t always given the responsibility they could be. Some firms are reluctant to trust non-lawyers with certain kinds of work, while other firms take an attitude that is strictly business. “Our firm is a business,” Manko Gold & Katcher managing partner Marc E. Gold said. “It needs to be run like a business.” John S. Kirk, the firm’s director of administration, said he is treated like a partner and has a feeling of partnership responsibility. Kirk’s position may be the exception to the rule. Other lawyers attending the meeting expressed a reluctance to trust their administrators with tasks that partners would normally handle themselves, such as professional liability insurance or human resource problems. “One of the major issues of the managing partners is to identify their comfort level,” Kirk said. “They have to decide if they would trust a non-lawyer to do this.” According to Gail Ruopp, director of administration for Bennett Bricklin & Saltzburg, the tradition is to keep non-legal people away from a firm’s partners. But the closer administrators are to the inner workings of the firm, the more effectively they can support and manage business affairs, Ruopp said. “It’s a hard thing for most partners to delegate,” Ruopp said. “But it’s about reevaluating your business — do you want to spend time or bill time? The test for whether or not it is worth it is to look at the managing partner’s billable hours before you hired an administrator and look at the hours after. Direct savings means direct earnings.” Firms struggle to find administrators with the power to alleviate managing partners’ collective headache. One major concern has been whether it is better to move someone up the ranks from the administrative staff or bring a credentialed professional in from outside the firm. Members in attendance acknowledged that some firms do manage well with their homegrown talent. “But coming up though the ranks may be difficult if that person had developed a loyalty to one partner,” Kirk said. There is also a risk that attorneys will not give the same amount of respect to someone who lacks a formal business education as they would to an MBA stepping in from the outside. According to Ruopp, those firms that seek administrators with credentials are best served by contacting area headhunters. Gold believes that the number of firm administrators will continue to increase. As lawyers learn to delegate, they will be able to concentrate on the most important part of practicing law — clients. “With the right person, there is no business function that you cannot shed,” Gold said.

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