Pros and Cons of Becoming a Legal Office Manager
Legal office managers need knowledge of a number of computer programs, the ability to work with people, must be detail and deadline-oriented and, often, possess some knowledge of the law. Consider the following pros and cons to determine if a career as a legal office manager is right for you.
|PROS of a Legal Office Manager Career|
|Won't get bored (duties include wide variety of tasks)*|
|Can work in many geographical locations*|
|No degrees required (advancement often based on experience)*|
|Salaries are fairly good (in 2014, the average hourly wage was $44.35)*|
|CONS of Legal Office Manager Career|
|Competition for jobs is high*|
|Hours can be long (with no overtime pay)*|
|Need experience to obtain better paying jobs*|
|Dependent on economy (fewer jobs in a bad economy)*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Job Duties, Salary and Career Info
The job duties of legal office managers can vary widely, depending on the work environment. Essentially, managers oversee the administrative functions of a law office or legal department. This can involve bookkeeping, hiring and firing, coordinating benefits plans, organizing office functions, supervising staff and, in some cases, handling legal duties such as calendaring court deadlines, drafting legal documents and management of case files.
In smaller firms, the legal office manager is often responsible for all of the duties described above, with the ultimate responsibility to make the firm run as smoothly as possible. At larger firms or legal departments, the work can be more specialized among various office managers who report to a management supervisor or the partners. Legal office managers at one-lawyer firms often enjoy responsibility for all administrative duties, as well as the full range of legal duties typically delegated to paralegals at larger firms.
Competition for law office management positions is high, as the number of people seeking positions within the field outnumbers the available jobs. The growth rate for all office manager jobs from 2012 through 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), would be around 12%, which is about average among all careers. The trend among larger firms and legal departments to downsize and capitalize on the development of new technology can result in streamlined firms that require fewer managers. However, it is important to note that qualified law office managers often oversee the implementation of these changes.
Experience and education are vitally important to those seeking careers within the legal office management field. A review of current job openings reveals that almost all firms hiring in March 2011 were seeking candidates with five or more years of experience as law office or administrative managers and some level of postsecondary education.
Wages for law office managers vary greatly, depending on the size of the firm, the location and a person's experience. The median annual salary for office managers in May 2014, according to the BLS, was $83,790. However, a look at current job postings shows that legal office managers can often earn significantly more. In March 2012, two New York firms were hiring legal office managers, with one offering a salary up to $85,000 and the other offering a base pay rate of $100,000 to $125,000 a year.
What Are the Requirements?
There are no specific educational requirements for those seeking careers in law office management. However, an associate's or bachelor's degree in a related field, such as business or office administration, can greatly increase a candidate's chances in seeking a job. Some firms seek applicants with professional certifications, such as a Certified Legal Manager designation.
The most important requirement is experience. Prospective legal office managers just entering the field can often expect to work in lesser administrative positions for several years before having an adequate shot at a management position. Many potential employers require a minimum of five years of experience. Among the skills you will need in the field are:
- Leadership and team building skills
- An attention to detail
- Ability to meet deadlines
- People skills
- Computer knowledge
Job Postings from Real Employers
Although a specific degree is not a requirement in the law office management field, most employers seek applicants with some postsecondary education, as well as a certain amount of experience. Certification and memberships in professional organizations can also be helpful. To give you an idea of the varied skills and experience employers were looking for, the following are a few law office manager job listings from nationally known Internet job websites from March 2012:
- A law office in Columbus, Ohio, sought an office manager for an 11-lawyer, multi-city firm to oversee accounting and report functions, human relations, staff training, IT coordination and facilities and equipment management. Successful candidates should have a bachelor's degree in accounting, five years of law office management experience, and knowledge of ProLaw document management.
- A sole practitioner employment law firm was looking for an experienced legal secretary to manage the firm. Applicants must have strong experience in litigation support, as well as excellent phone and client management skills.
- A successful Washington, D.C., trial firm wanted an office administrator with knowledge of law firm management to run office functions, establish priorities and develop successful relationships between the lawyers and support staff. Membership in the Association of Legal Administrators and certification as a Certified Legal Manager were considered a plus for potential candidates.
- A New York City-based residential real estate development firm sought a legal office manager to oversee three attorneys and support staff. Responsibilities included billing, tracking, commencing legal proceedings and coordinating case assignments and calendars.
How to Stand Out
The best way to get noticed in the field of law office management is to have experience. Though the best way to obtain that experience is through time spent working as an office manager, many firms seek candidates with equivalent educational experience that allow prospective candidate to move directly into office management. Applicants can stand out by earning associate's or bachelor's degrees in areas such as accounting, office administration, business, paralegal or legal administrative assisting.
Those already working in the field can strengthen their marketability by pursuing online courses in paralegal studies, accounting or business, or by obtaining certification in a specialty such as law office management. Knowledge of accounting and legal software programs can also be helpful. A very good way for you to increase your chances for success as a law office manager is to join a professional association, such as the Association of Legal Administrators. In addition to providing lists of job openings, associations offer educational opportunities, networking and a chance to establish relationships with other successful law office managers within the field.
Since the nature of required duties will vary depending on the type of firm or legal department, specializing in certain areas within the field is a good way to stand out. For example, some firms expect their office managers to handle paralegal duties as an integral part of their job. Applicants with paralegal experience or paralegal certification will have a higher chance of getting hired at one of these firms. Other firms want managers to handle more traditional office duties, such as bookkeeping, accounting and personnel management. Experience or a degree within these areas can increase your chances for success.
Other Career Paths
Administrative Services Manager
A good way to broaden your career opportunities is to pursue a career as an administrative services manager. The duties and training are almost identical, but you won't be limiting yourself to working in a law office or legal department. Administrative services managers handle a variety of duties aimed at allowing organizations and businesses to run smoothly. A degree is not a requirement to work in this field but, again, experience and/or education are helpful.
Job prospects in this career are better because of your ability to choose from a wide variety of fields. However, competition is keen for higher-level, better paying jobs. Employment is expected to grow by 12% from 2008 through 2018, which is a little better than the average for all other occupations. Salaries can be much better, as the median annual wages for an administrative services manager in May 2010 were $84,390, according to the BLS.
If you want to work within the legal field without the expense and commitment of attending law school, becoming a paralegal can be a good option. Paralegals - also commonly called legal assistants -- aid lawyers with a wide variety of duties, ranging from administrative tasks such as filing and organizing calendars to full-on legal work drafting pleadings and working with clients. Many firms give their paralegals more legal responsibility as they gain experience, but paralegals are forbidden to offer legal advice to clients. Though the majority of paralegals work in law firms, jobs are also available in government and corporate legal departments.
More education may be required than that of a law office manager, as most paralegals have either an associate's degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor's degree in another area and a paralegal certificate. The job outlook is very strong for paralegals. According to the BLS, employment growth for the decade from 2008 to 2018 is 28%, which is much faster than average. Salaries for paralegals are wide ranging, from around $30,000 a year to more than $73,000, with an average salary in 2010 of $49,640.