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Leadership tips for law firm administrators

As a law firm administrator, you might not be listed as a partner, but that doesn’t make you any less of a leader at your firm. These leadership tips are for you, admins.

You can give the job any title you want: office manager, law firm administrator, super hero. At the end of the day, the job description is the same: you’re the legal professional who takes care of the business side of the firm.

Some are paralegals. Some have a background in running different types of offices. Still others are simply thrust into the position for lack of another willing soul to take on the task.

What all of you have in common, however, is that you bridge the gap between the attorneys and the rest of the firm’s operations. Well, that and the fact that you must have intense leadership skills in order to make the whole place run smoothly.

In this article, we’ll explore some leadership tips for legal administrators so you can maximize your influence and lead the other leaders at your firm.

#1: Strive for emotional maturity

This is one of those easier said than done tips, but according to some leadership experts, “[e]motional immaturity in leadership is a crisis.”

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense.

Law firm administrators are constantly handling employee drama, financial emergencies, partner meltdowns, and security issues, just to name a few. A person whose job it is to navigate these situations must be able to do so with a degree of calm in the face of pressure.

Ultimately, law firm administrators don’t get to “freak out” when something goes wrong. They have to handle it with grace and serve as a guidepost for others in the firm on how to react.

If this isn’t your current modus operandi, don’t despair. There are plenty of tips available on how you can increase your emotional maturity. Having the awareness to admit that you lose your cool sometimes is a huge first step.

#2: Allow your team to have a voice

Great law firm administrators solve problems.

In order to do so, however, they must know that a problem exists.

Listening to others who work with you, no matter what position or authority they have, is the only way you’re going to know what’s going on across the firm.

By fostering an environment where people feel safe to talk to you about problems in the workplace, you stay aware of what’s really happening. This gives you the chance to resolve problems quickly, efficiently, and maturely.

It doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to see how this tip works.

Imagine a law firm where rank-and-file staff are afraid to talk to the firm administrator about one attorney’s harassing behavior.

That behavior continues on, unchecked, until one or more employees are completely traumatized. This can lead to mass resignations, bad press, or even a series of lawsuits against the firm.

Imagine, on the other hand, a firm where employees felt safe approaching this subject with the administrator.

The administrator could immediately take steps to observe, verify, and handle the problem. This would not only make employees feel safe and secure, but would potentially eliminate all of the negative consequences listed above.

Plus, taking action builds more trust so that firm employees are more likely to speak up about the next uncomfortable problem sooner.

#3: Advocate for positive change

Anyone who has ever spent years (or decades) at one law firm knows that these institutions are not necessarily bastions for positive change.

Like it or not, law firm partners tend to be set in their ways and are often resistant to change, especially when the status quo has been working “well enough.”

As the recent pandemic taught all of us, however, sometimes massive change becomes necessary seemingly overnight.

A good business leader must be willing to not only recognize the need for change, but to advocate for it as well.

Look around you. What’s working? What’s not? Is there anything you can tweak to make your law firm a more positive, efficient, or profitable enterprise (or all three)?

#4: Be the biggest cheerleader

Great business leaders aren’t afraid to publicly recognize success. In fact, they go out of their way to bring attention to the triumphs of others.

Let’s face it: everybody in the workplace wants to be recognized for hard work.

However, giving public praise isn’t just about stroking people’s egos. If you want to be an effective leader, learn how to effectively call attention to and celebrate people’s achievements.

  • Make it specific — Congratulate someone about crushing a tough deadline instead of thanking them for being a dedicated employee in general.
  • Be genuine — People will feel it if you’re grasping for something to compliment.
  • Keep it realistic — Don’t exaggerate achievements. Small wins are still worth celebrating.
  • Praise both publicly and privately — Recognize people in front of their peers, but also share real, in-the-moment praise when you can.

 

Among other things, employees who are praised in the workplace tend to be more loyal, more productive, more satisfied, and less likely to skip work. As a critical leader within your law firm, adopt a habit of recognizing employee success at every chance you get.

#5: Lead with integrity

Have you ever worked for someone who talks a good game yet doesn’t back up all that talk with meaningful action?

We all have at one time or another. Thus, we know how disheartening it can be to consistently hear positive messaging, yet observe a chaotic mess.

Great law firm administrators must lead with integrity.

That means telling employees the truth about difficult situations. It also means sometimes asking for hard things (like weekend overtime) only if you’re putting in the effort yourself.

While employees may not always love the truths you have to tell them, they will always appreciate hearing that truth over a pleasant lie. Having the courage to be honest is the foundation for trust.

That trust is a critical component to surviving hard times within the firm.

#6: Be humble

It is easy to let leadership go to your head.

Never forget, however, that the people around you are very smart. If they have their own ideas for improving law firm processes, listen. If they have suggestions for resolving a nagging problem within the firm, give their idea a try.

The point is, humble leaders are effective leaders. You can’t lead effectively if your ego gets in the way, especially if you’re leading without an important title and the power that comes with it.

As a law firm administrator, try to give credence to the thoughts and ideas your employees present to you. You never do know when one of those ideas will be the catalyst for much needed change.

For all the law firm administrators out there, we see you. You have an incredibly difficult job that often goes underappreciated. We hope these tips help you achieve the success you and your firm deserve.

Author

  • Jennifer Anderson

    Jennifer Anderson practiced business litigation in California from 1999 to 2016. When she’s not writing from her floating cabin on the Columbia River, she can be found hiking or kayaking around the Pacific Northwest.

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