Best Practices in Law Firm Administration and Administrators: Reporting Relationships Go Both Ways

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For the principal administrator of a law firm, there are two components to reporting relationships – to whom the administrator reports and who reports to the administrator. It’s important for a firm to think through the reporting structure from the firm’s partners down to the principal administrator.  There are a number of factors which might influence whether the administrator should report to the management or executive committee, or if a direct report to the managing partner is advised.  The firm must also consider the next link in the chain – the relationship of principal administrator to his or her direct reports (see last month’s Tip for information on that topic).

Effective principal administrators will understand the importance of both sets of reporting relationships. Too much emphasis on relationships with partners (managing partner, executive committee, practice group leaders, etc.) and the administrator will not succeed as a leader and manager of the firm’s administrative team. Similarly, any administrator who focuses too much on direct reports will never operate at the requisite strategic level in the firm and will be perceived primarily as a mouthpiece for the firm’s administrative staff.

A good principal administrator can add enormous value to a law firm and free up partners to devote more time to client development and the practice of law.  But this requires the creation of an organizational and reporting structure that meets the unique needs of the firm – and the selection of a candidate who can find the right balance to work with and be respected by all key constituencies.


Jim Wilber has placed hundreds of law firm executives and business managers over two decades.  He advises law firms on administrative structure, management and leadership and is a former practicing lawyer and law office manager.  Contact Jim at jswilber@altmanweil.com

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