Law Firm Articles

Best Practices in Law Firm
Administration and Administrators:
Reporting Relationships

A common question from law firms is whether all administrators should report to the principal administrator, who then reports to partner leadership, or whether to have two or more co-equal administrators who each report to the managing partner or executive committee. This issue usually arises in consideration of the reporting relationships of three positions: the principal administrator (i.e., COO or Executive Director), CFO and CMO.

Although there is no absolute right or wrong answer, getting it right is critical to the success of the administrative team and the firm’s administration. The default position should be to have all administrative managers, including the CFO and CMO, report to the principal administrator because many top-notch principal administrators will not take positions unless all administrative functions and managers report to them. It also typically is more effective as it reduces the number of direct reports to partner leadership and makes it clear who is accountable for all the firm’s administrative functions. Some CFOs, however, have been known to insist on direct reporting to the Managing Partner or Executive Committee, as have CMOs. The larger the firm the more likely that it will have two or more co-equal reports to the managing partner or executive committee. Under any circumstances, however, this is a very important issue and one that has to be gotten right to avoid hard feelings and a dysfunctional administrative leadership team, or worse.

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.

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