Executive directors and legal administrators play a crucial role in the smooth operations of a law firm. They wear many hats, ensuring organization, facilitating communication, balancing accounts, and scheduling dockets, among many other things. They’re the drivers behind the business of law making sure that nothing slips through the cracks.
But all of these responsibilities require a specific kind of person and can add up to a highly stressful job. Fortunately, legal technology makes it easier than ever to support legal administrative staff so they are able to focus on higher-level work and do so with and less unneeded stress.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to attract and retain law firm administrative staff, including how technology can help you deliver the support that administrative personnel need.
A 2022 Report on the State of the Legal Market from the Thomson Reuters Institute and the Georgetown Law Center noted “serious retention challenges with respect to professional staff other than lawyers.” In a tight talent market, “many [administrators] feel empowered to shop around to improve their compensation and working conditions. Law firms may have to confront something they haven’t seen in the legal industry in quite a while: leverage owned by those who are not attorneys.”
In today’s environment, legal administrative professionals know they have earned better work conditions. They want to feel valued in terms of compensation and recognition and want to have a better work/life balance. It’s clear that law firms need to act now to ensure that they can both hire and retain top administrative talent.
To attract and keep legal administrative talent, your law firm needs to take a strategic approach. Here are a few ways that your firm can get started.
Money talks: it’s an obvious reason that people choose a job and stick with it. People want to be paid what they are worth and receive compensation consistent with the value that they bring. By offering compensation and benefits packages that align with what’s being offered in the legal market, you’ll show new talent that your firm values their role and prevent them from looking to jump ship to your competitors.
However, it takes more than just compensation to make a staff job at a law firm fulfilling.
Over the years, some law firms have maintained a de facto caste system that separates lawyers from nonlawyer staff. The very word “nonlawyer” is part of the problem, minimizing the importance of the work that law firm staff do. This type of firm culture sometimes also leads to heavy investment in tools, technology, and benefits to support lawyers but less investment for staff. This approach hurts the efficiency of the entire firm.
To ensure you build a culture that supports legal staff, emphasize the strategic importance of administrative work and highlight the varied responsibilities that administrative personnel have and how they help your law firm function and grow. We also recommend outlining clear career progression paths for administrative professionals in your organization. For example, a firm can offer opportunities for continuous learning and development, such as training programs, workshops, and certifications. Also consider how you can implement technology designed to support them working more efficiently, such as tech platforms that enable them to streamline calendaring, simplify document management, improve billing practices, and handle other strategic tasks.
Work/life balance is important across the board and it plays a crucial role in attracting and retaining top talent, including legal administrative staff. Administrative staff typically face demanding workloads, tight deadlines, and high-pressure situations along with attorneys and both sides appreciate benefits such as paid time off and flexible work arrangements.
Hybrid work arrangements are an important perk for today’s admins, and enabling staff to work from home requires the right legal technology. Cloud-based legal software allows administrative personnel to work from anywhere. The right matter management platform will put all of the essential information about a matter or client at your staff’s fingertips, keeping all related records such as texts, bills, and documents corralled in one place. A cloud-based client portal avoids back-and-forth, time-consuming emails and reduces the repetitive work on your admins’ plate by giving clients direct access to the answers they need. Leading cloud-based document management platforms preserve client confidentiality and protect sensitive matter details, eliminating the risks of sending confidential documents in unencrypted emails.
But improving the work life for your team goes beyond access. A critical part of making work more fulfilling requires firms to give staff the tools that simplify their work.
Automating tedious, repetitive, manual work like pre-billing and client intake not only makes admins’ work more efficient, but it also means that your team can devote their time to higher-value work that requires a higher skill level. Allowing administrative professionals to focus on more strategic tasks creates a more satisfying work environment. You can also improve their workday with tools that foster communication and streamline project management. This technology reduces administrative bottlenecks, enhances efficiency, and fosters collaboration, all of which can help attract and retain legal staff.
Enhance your law firm’s brand
There are lots of reasons to invest in branding, one of which is that legal administrative professionals in the market will Google your law firm’s website and assess its online presence, including not just its job listings but also its culture. A well-designed, informative website enhances your firm’s credibility and professionalism, which can attract high-quality administrative staff seeking career opportunities with reputable, forward-thinking organizations.
We recommend a professional yet friendly website that includes staff and administrator bios. This will emphasize to candidates that administrative professionals are a valued part of your firm’s legal team. You can also share testimonials from staff and offer a glimpse into what it’s like to work for your law firm, so candidates can determine whether they’re a good fit.
In today’s competitive job market, your law firm needs to do more than offer a competitive salary and standard benefits. You also need to invest the overall importance of your administrative staff, including in legal technology, showing them that you value them and their work enough to help them do it more efficiently and with fewer headaches.
Attracting and retaining top legal talent is critical in today’s competitive market. A team of top attorneys gives your firm a competitive edge and ensures your firm will continue to impress clients with quality legal work.
In this article, we’ll cover four ways to attract (and retain) top legal talent, with an emphasis on how legal technology can help you do both.
With recent layoffs at large law firms and the incoming classes of law school graduates, there are great opportunities for smaller and midsize firms — if they can compete effectively in the job market.
Today’s top legal talent has high expectations: competitive pay, opportunities for professional development, a meaningful work/life balance, and leveraging advanced legal technology. While meeting these expectations may seem challenging, it’s essential for law firms that want to attract and retain the best lawyers and staff.
Let’s get into some specifics.
Top legal talent expects to be paid what they are worth. Offering a competitive salary and comprehensive benefits package is crucial to attracting new lawyers and staff. A higher starting salary and market benefits (e.g., health, dental, and vision) will translate directly into more applications for open positions and higher retention rates.
Of course, if you get into a salary tug-of-war with your competition, you’ll eventually run out of cash. Increases are only sustainable to a point. That’s why your firm should focus on the totality of what it has to offer, including training, work/life balance, and technology that makes the job easier.
Top legal talent typically wants opportunities for professional growth and development so they can stay ahead of the curve. As a law firm, it’s important to offer these opportunities at all levels of practice.
For both lawyers and staff, constructive feedback and positive encouragement are important. By providing personalized feedback and having one-on-one meetings and not just waiting for end-of-year performance reviews, your attorneys and staff members will feel supported in their learning and will believe that there’s a path forward for them in the firm.
More formal learning opportunities are also essential for attracting and retaining skilled attorneys. Incorporate opportunities for continuing legal education (CLE) sessions and conferences in your learning and development budget. Investing more in learning and offering growth opportunities means your lawyers will be prepared to deliver better work to your clients — and more satisfied clients mean more income for your firm.
Work-life balance is key in attracting top talent, especially if that top talent consists of younger attorneys. Lawyers work long (and often stressful) hours on cases and acquisitions, so offering a supportive environment is crucial in counterbalancing the other demands of the job.
By offering flexible work arrangements — like remote or hybrid work or adjusted work hours — you’ll provide lawyers with the tools to manage their personal responsibilities. This includes flexible arrangements for new parents or employees who might need to work remotely to care for an aging family member. By providing flexibility, your firm will emphasize its commitment to supporting its attorneys and staff, and in doing so will attract the best of the best.
Legal technology can be employed to make it easier for attorneys to get their work done anytime, anywhere. Cloud-based legal software that enables secure remote access of case files, documents, and other client materials means lawyers can work from home or on the road more easily. Leading legal software platforms can enable lawyers to communicate and collaborate seamlessly with team members and clients through document sharing, messaging, and videoconferencing.
Advanced legal technology isn’t only important for offering flexible work arrangements — it’s also an expectation for incoming top talent. Good legal tech makes life easier for attorneys by streamlining work processes and increasing efficiency. It allows lawyers to work smarter by calendaring deadlines, prioritizing billable tasks, and ridding themselves of mundane or repetitive tasks through automation. Time capture tools make it easier than ever to keep valuable billable minutes from falling through the cracks.
While lawyers may be wooed by an attractive compensation package, they won’t stay if they don’t like working for your firm. An important part of your firm’s culture rests on how well you enable your lawyers and staff to work. That requires an investment in the latest legal technology.
This means tools to help with everything from case management to removing the tedium of timekeeping and billing (maybe the most frustrating of all law firm tasks).
And tech that enables internal collaboration, helping teams build a collective knowledge base that everyone can access and improving work quality, avoiding duplicative efforts, and accelerating results. For instance, a fully integrated matter management system will help keep everyone on a team up to date on matter status and highlight roadblocks where someone may be able to offer their expertise. Teams can also collaborate in real-time and track matter status, allowing for greater flexibility while also building a sense of community.
Everything is connected this way: better tech leads to less tedium, allowing lawyers to get their billable work done more quickly, which gives them more time to focus on their personal lives and find their own preferred work/life balance.
Of course, one of the best ways to convey to talent that you are the right choice for them to excel in their legal careers is to have an up to date and professional website. today’s talent expects a robust digital presence, and the first place they go to research employers is online.
Your firm’s webpage should highlight your firm’s culture and include statements or videos on your website with partners, associates, and staff explaining the benefits of working for your firm.
Junior and senior lawyers alike expect access to advanced tools that make work easier, enabling them to deliver exceptional client service and improving their work/life balance in the process. Law firms that invest in legal technology platforms can attract better talent and position themselves as industry leaders.
Compliance is a priority for law firms. And legal software can be a key tool in helping you meet your firm’s compliance requirements.
In this article, we’ll cover major compliance issues that law firms need to monitor and solutions that can reduce your risks.
A primary compliance concern for law firms is staying on top of compliance related to both data and processes: for example, storing firm and client data safely in the cloud, managing online client portals, processing online payments, handling trust accounting issues, and following ethical requirements relating to online advertising and marketing.
In this section, we’ll go over a few major buckets of compliance risks in the digital world that your firm should recognize and address.
When it comes to storing data, security is the top compliance priority. Law firms must make “reasonable efforts” under ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6 to prevent the disclosure of client-related information. That means law firms must understand what client data they store, where they are storing it, and what the potential entry points for data loss and disclosure are. Additional compliance requirements vary depending on the size and type of law that your firm practices, but it’s best practice to review applicable requirements and make sure that your firm’s cloud infrastructure has the robust protections necessary to safeguard your clients’ data.
Choosing a reputable provider of cloud-based legal platforms is the first step in ensuring compliance. The provider should have a proven track record and, ideally, have suffered zero data breaches in the past. Make sure that it offers robust security features like encryption and access control, such as password policies, two-factor authentication, and role-based permissions.
Much like the cloud, client portals require firms to pay special attention to how they secure client information. Your law firm should implement strong access controls, such as two-factor authentication and secure file transfer protocols, to prevent unauthorized access to client data. Law firms that use client portals also must comply with the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which include requirements for maintaining client confidentiality (Rule 1.6), establishing competence (including with technology) (Rule 1.1), and keeping clients informed of matters (Rule 1.4).
Processing client payments online
There are a host of considerations when deciding how to accept online payments from your clients. Clients overwhelmingly prefer to have the ability to pay online and to pay with credit cards. Turning to legal software to do the behind-the-scenes work of processing online payments for your law firm is your best bet.
The right legal technology platform can ensure that all online payments accepted follow the ABA Model Rules, Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) guidelines, and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS). The right legal payment and accounting software will ensure that your legal team does not commingle client trust account funds with the funds they use for operations.
Following rules for online law firm advertising
Law firm websites must meet certain ethical requirements set forth by their state bars. For example, websites shouldn’t advertise a lawyer as an “expert” or as “specialized” in a particular practice area unless they hold a specific qualification permitted by their state. They should also not hold themselves out to be the “best” lawyer to handle a type of matter. Attorneys may also need to include a disclaimer noting that the information on their website should not be considered legal advice. Lawyers should check their state bar’s requirements to ensure compliance. In some states, the bar may require or permit the submission of the law firm’s website content for ethical review.
Additionally, prospective clients want to see that your law firm is capable of handling matters like theirs. One of the best ways to highlight your expertise is through the words of satisfied clients. But there are limits to what you can share online — and you also need to prepare for how to handle a negative review. ABA Model Rule 7.1 requires that all communications about a lawyer and their services must be true and not misleading. Marketing statements, such as testimonials, could be misleading if they set an expectation that a lawyer can obtain the same results as another client without reference to the specific factual and legal circumstances of each client’s case.
Finally, law firms should make sure that their websites meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. That means your site’s design and visual and audio content need to be accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities.
A digital marketing company that focuses on helping law firms can help identify and avoid online marketing pitfalls and help you comply with your state bar’s requirements.
True compliance starts with your people. Your law firm should have a data protection plan (especially when it comes to client data) that outlines steps and safety procedures. It should include policies on who can access client data, how and when they can access it, and how data is retained and backed up. Also, make sure that your attorneys and staff are trained on how to handle sensitive data and best practices for compliance.
Legal software plays a critical role in helping law firms remain compliant with laws and regulations. As touched on throughout this article, the laws related to compliance are plentiful, and navigating those waters yourself is unnecessarily risky.
With advanced legal software, your firm can ensure data security through the cloud, keep client information confidential, and process online payments both quickly and while fulfilling your legal and ethical requirements. By leveraging legal software, your firm will streamline compliance processes, reduce the risk of data breaches and other violations, and ultimately protect your law firm’s reputation.
Almost nine in ten Americans use some form of digital payment. It’s no wonder, then, that law firm clients expect to be able to make payments online. Not only does this make handling bills easier and faster for your clients, but it’s also good for your law firm’s cash flow. Online payments close the gap between the time a client is billed to when that client makes good on payment.
In this article, we’ll cover how your law firm can accept online payments while remaining compliant with applicable law and ethical guidelines. We’ll also note some of the best features to look for in your payment solution software.
Yes! Clients expect law firms to deliver a memorable client experience, which includes making payments quick and easy by offering a variety of payment options. Clients want the flexibility of making payments via credit cards, e-checks, and digital transfer services like ACH. In fact, a recent study found that 40% of clients would never hire a lawyer who didn’t take credit or debit cards.
This variety of payment options is also good for your firm and its bottom line. By offering several convenient payment methods, law firms incentivize their clients to pay invoices faster and completely. When you expand your firm’s acceptable methods of payment, you’ll likely find that you spend less time waiting for checks in the mail, less time hounding clients for late payments, and more time on billable work.
Accepting online payments isn’t complicated, but it does require planning and a little help from technology. It’s not inherently risky for your law firm to accept online payment. Nearly every jurisdiction in the United States has given the green light for law firms to accept credit card payments for legal fees and expenses. But, as with all legal fees, your firm must comply with applicable legal requirements and ethical responsibilities.
In broad strokes, your firm must comply with the rules requiring the separation of client and third-party funds from your law firm’s operating funds. What is the best way to do this? Use payment software developed for attorneys with this exact ethical issue in mind. Without it, your firm might not be compliant.
While your law firm accepting online payment isn’t dicey, using a non-legal payment solution is. These software options often fail to properly handle law firm transactions according to the trust accounting principle noted above as well as Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) guidelines. The result can be noncompliance, which is bad for everyone — including your law firm’s reputation. The right technology ensures that your law firm has separate operating and trust accounts and ensures that processing fees are deducted from your operating account only.
If you set yourself up correctly, your firm will never have to worry about an inadvertent ethics violation and can focus on delivering exceptional client work.
With the various rules and regulations regarding legal payment, fee collection comes with a host of unique considerations, especially when accepting credit card payments. The right legal payment processing platform will do the behind-the-scenes work for your law firm, ensuring that all online payments accepted comply with the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and IOLTA guidelines.
When picking a payment solution, we recommend looking for the following four features to ensure compliance and improve ease of use.
Not only do clients expect to be able to pay online, but they also expect that your firm will manage their multiple trusts and retainers. Rather than falling short of their expectations, with the proper tools, you can easily manage multiple trusts and retainers under one or many matters and even track them at the client level.
By having the power to track both your firm and client finances in one central place, you can keep an eye on money moving in and out of your firm with complete faith in your firm’s compliance.
Under most state laws, law firms must keep earned revenue and unearned revenue separate. The right payment tool recognizes when payment revenue is unearned (that is, applied to a trust replenishment) and when it is earned (applied to a billing entry) and deposits it accordingly.
You need a legal technology platform that can take an invoice payment and split it between two accounts, keeping your firm in compliance, saving your accounting team time, avoiding mistakes, and raising your collection realization rate. Avoid tools that require you to have either a trust account or an operating account and then require a bookkeeper to determine whether and how to apply and move the funds. That’s asking for human error and compliance woes.
3. Easily manage your IOLTA accounts
You need an efficient way to track multiple IOLTA accounts. With a robust legal platform, you can automatically assign accounts for each client trust so that you can track the flow of money, giving you visibility into where your firm and trust money meet at all times.
4. Apply available funds to pay off client bills automatically
Instead of waiting for that check to arrive in the mail, you can sweep through accounts to find matters with accounts receivable balances and available funds. With this information, your firm can quickly create bill payments and then write checks from your IOLTA account to an operating account. This way, you’re always efficiently applying your client’s money (and making them happy).
For many law firms, the “client experience” is simply about results: if lawyers win a case or close a deal, they consider that a positive experience. Resolving a problem is offering good client service. There’s more to creating a great experience.
Meeting basic client expectations for good service won’t be enough to stand out to new clients among your competitors. Instead, law firms need to find new ways to deliver a holistic client experience — spanning from first contact through the final bill — that will help you be distinctive from other firms, keep existing clients, and help your law firm weather a market downturn.
What does an exceptional client experience look like that will help you reach new prospective clients during an economic slowdown? Let’s take a look.
The client intake process is likely your firm’s first substantive communication with a new client. And it’s a reputation-altering opportunity.
Your client intake process should be quick and painless. An automated process can collect all the information you need and populate it into other forms and systems so there’s less lag time while your staff manually enters client information. It can also schedule appointments and route people to the right contact so there is less friction for prospective clients. Advanced intake technology can also sift through leads to determine which are worthy of pursuit so you can prioritize them before they look elsewhere for help.
The right system will also allow your team to complete a thorough conflicts check quickly. It should also capture your clients’ concerns so you can understand their goals and tailor your services to meet their needs. Whatever system you use, collect information about how clients find out about your services so you can focus your marketing dollars on those channels.
A smooth intake process is the first way that you can showcase to clients that you’re able to meet their expectations. The longer and more painful your intake process, the more likely clients are to choose a different law firm.
Communication is the foundation of a positive client experience. No one likes to be left in the dark, wondering about the status of their case. And no matter how busy you are, clients don’t like to hear that their call or email went unanswered because you were working on a different client’s matter.
Clients expect regular communication, and they expect that communication to be thoughtful. (This means that your lawyers and staff should communicate with clients in plain language instead of legal jargon and offer clear explanations of what your clients can expect.) Whenever there’s a development in your client’s case, you should let them know about it in a timely fashion. And if your client emails or calls with a question, you should quickly acknowledge their concern, even if you don’t have an immediate answer. Responsiveness can avoid conflicts and misunderstandings and strengthen the client relationship. You should also touch base regularly with your clients even if you don’t have any significant news to report, so they know that their case is still on your radar.
But all of this communication can become tedious in a lawyer’s busy day. Back-and-forth status emails and calls take a lot of time away from pressing legal work. Fortunately, there’s an easier way to keep clients apprised of their case status.
A secure, cloud-based client portal makes it easier than ever to stay in touch with clients. An online portal allows clients to access the information they need at their convenience, whether it’s a deadline, a document, or a bill. For example, an online portal allows clients to log in to view their current billing status and share and view documents. Some portals also offer a chat function that delivers automatic text notifications when new messages or other updates arrive, improving lawyers’ responsiveness and raising client satisfaction because they won’t have to play phone tag or go back and forth over email.
Transparency builds trust and strengthens the client relationship, which is essential when creating a client-centered practice. To deliver a good client experience with regard to billing, you need to explain your firm’s rates up front. You should also set a budget that includes all anticipated fees so your client fully understands their potential financial outlay.
Many clients also prefer to understand their billing status before they receive a surprise in the mail. An online billing portal keeps clients updated so there aren’t any unexpected expenses that can damage your relationship with clients.
You can also improve the client experience by offering a variety of payment options. Many clients enjoy the flexibility of making online payments through credit cards, eChecks, and digital transfer services like ACH. An online portal makes it easy to take these payments while expediting the firm’s receipt of funds — you won’t have to wait months for a check or hound clients for overdue payments.
Your law firm should set a perpetual goal of improving your clients’ experience — regardless of how the market is performing. And one of the easiest ways to increase your clients’ satisfaction is by adding client-centric legal technology.
When the market is tight, law firms may initially question the expense of adding new tools. However, tech tools should be delivering savings in the short and long term. They can reduce manual work, improving employee satisfaction and reducing turnover. They can streamline the intake process so prospects don’t have to wait as long for an initial lawyer contact. And they can ensure clients are always kept up to date about the status of their matters and bills.
Legal technology tools make it easy for clients to work with your law firm — and to share their positive client experience with others.