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.
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.