Diveristy in the Legal Community
Roles of Administrator in Law Firms – An OverviewThe success of a law firm, regardless of size, does not solely depend on the hired lawyers. An efficient Administrator is another key factor that would substantially contribute to a successful law firm with the services he/she provides. As the firm increases in size and its operations become more complex, the need for an Administrator is said to become more apparent.
Being an Administrator in a law firm generally entails overseeing the operations of non-legal staff and managing financial aspect of the firm. An Administrator ensures that support services provided to lawyers are in order. These fundamental roles played by the Administrator vary in degree based on the size of the firm. As such, some distinctive management styles are deemed to be more fitting depending on the size of the law firm. But then again, some skills possessed by an Administrator remain a constant requirement to efficiently handle the firm operations as well as promote a culture that would be mutually beneficial for all the members and the organization.
This paper discusses some of the qualities and responsibilities of an Administrator across law firms of various sizes. In relation to this, it summarizes the interview conducted to know more about how Administrators from small, medium-sized, and large law firms actually handle their responsibilities and cultural diversity within the workplace.
To know more about their roles and responsibilities, three administrators from small, medium-sized and large firms were interviewed.
The Firm Administrator of the small firm, which is comprised of 7 in-house lawyers, directly performs tasks in relation to hiring of secretarial personnel, dealing with payroll and other accounting aspect, educating personnel on benefit packages as well as administering disciplinary actions. Since she personally handles all these administrative functions, the Firm Administrator is highly capable of assessing and resolving difficulties on her own.
With this, she recognizes the support extended by the firm’s senior partner who does not hesitate to assist anyone despite a demanding working schedule. In addition, the firm’s principle of instilling knowledge with regard to effective management and legal techniques bodes well with the Firm Administrator. As such, she has found a perfectly suited firm where she can continue pursuing further studies in law on top of her undergraduate Marketing degree.
Coming from a diverse African American background, the Firm Administrator believes that diversity is one of the most important characteristics any law firm should have. Given the dramatically increasing minority population, she reckons that it is imperative to have lawyers from this group in order to attract clients who share the same background. However, she noted that in terms of hiring, skills would always command a higher priority over background.
The Firm Administrator for a medium-sized firm, which is composed of 55 attorneys, is in charge of managing business financing, interviewing associates, marketing the firm, overseeing the operations of software systems as well as ensuring that the firm is keeping up with the latest technology. Given that she is dealing with many of people with different backgrounds and attitudes, she posited that possessing good communication skill is mandatory so as to obliterate any cultural barrier which could adversely affect overall performance of the law firm.
As an administrator, she finds fulfillment in managing and counseling these people because such makes everyday unique and challenging. The Firm Administrator, who has an undergraduate degree in Business, also takes pride working for the law firm which recently celebrated its centennial anniversary as the oldest and most steadfast firm operating in Oakland County. She attributes this success to the democratic management of the firm where all the partners actively and equally participate in decision-making and hiring processes.
When asked about the diversity in the firm, she said that among the 55 attorneys in the firm, 1 is Chinese and 3 come from Chaldean descent. Through the years of her stay with the firm, she observed that she never received applications from minorities. This may be because they do not meet the firm’s basic skill requirements for associates. This is the most important basis for hiring lawyers.
However, she believes that diversity may be advantageous for the firm for the same reason that attorneys coming minority population can potentially bring in more clients from this community. But then again, she noted that this may also result in communication barriers the firm has to contend with.
In view of her position as the top administrative person who closely works with management partners, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) provides extensive assistance in hiring of future attorneys, evaluating associates and setting up of educational programs to enhance research, negotiation and writing skills. Given the size of the firm, the COO manages her own group comprised of a controller, technician, librarian, records personnel and human resources personnel. As such, she delegates and oversees various administrative functions to the members of her team.
In terms of educational background, the COO is appropriately suited for this position given her CPA degree and substantial experience in business and finance. Moreover, she is a highly motivated person who would do whatever will help the firm succeed. However, at times she feels that due to the high expectations of her colleagues in the firm, people have a tendency to think that she has all the answers for all the problems. She considers this as a challenge to improve her craft.
In the large firm, the COO encourages all attorneys to become more independent and less reliant on secretaries. On the other hand, she ensures that ample administrative support is given to all attorneys and especially to new associates. She also spearheads recreational group activities which could serve as team building and where people could bring with them their families to unwind.
The COO is working in a highly diversified firm comprised of 85 attorneys, of which some are African American or Indian, and one third are women. She considers diversity as an asset because it helps give depth into the firm. Similarly, for the COO, diversity is a marketing advantage with could attract more clients from diverse backgrounds. She also advocates the establishment of a culturally sensitive firm. In this regard, the firm respects individual beliefs and remains open to becoming premium legal team of diverse culture.
In line with this firm principle, the COO has attempted to seek attorneys from diverse culture to work for the firm. However, skills and qualification remain to be the top consideration.
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