Assisting Your Firm in Managing the BUSINESS Side of Your Practice PA Law Practice Management by Ellen Freedman
I have long been an advocate of professional business management of law firms. And that applies to firms of virtually all sizes. Lawyers should do what they do best, and what they went to law school for: practice law.
As I travel the state for the Pennsylvania Bar Association, providing seminars to attorneys on how to manage the business side of their practices, I consistently hear the grumbling . . . this isn’t what I went to law school for. . .no one told me I had to run a business just to practice law . . .they don’t teach this in law school!
Yes, it’s true. There are two sides to every law firm. There is the professional side. And there is also the business side. One does not exist without the other in a law firm environment. The problem is that running the business side of the firm requires specific and multi-faceted talent. One must know financial management and reporting, human resources, facilities management, technology, marketing, legal industry trends, Rules of Professional Conduct, practice management procedures, and more.
I find, unfortunately, that good lawyers often perform miserably as business managers. Sometimes they even get themselves in trouble from an ethical standpoint because of a lack of knowledge or financial desperation. At the least, they waste enormous amounts of time trying to manage the business side of their practice, that could be otherwise applied to generating revenues .
A professional law firm business manager, frequently referred to as Administrator, Director of Administration, or Office Manager–depending often on the size of the firm and duties involved–must keep his or her knowledge current in each of the core business management areas. Not an easy task. On top of that, he or she must deal with, ahem, somewhat difficult personalities on a daily basis. Not a cake walk. I should know. I did it for twenty years at very difficult firms. And I can proudly say that the firms I managed ran smoothly from an operational perspective 24x7x365. And at most of those firms — the smart ones who listened and took advice– I had more than a little to do with improved profitability.
A colleague of mine is office manager of a four-attorney surburban firm. We recently traveled to a three day educational conference together. It seems that the day before the conference she fell in her home and broke her arm. Not wanting to miss the conference, she determined that she would not have time to get the necessary cast placed on her arm. She did, however, manage to make time to buy a number of scarves which matched her outfits, so she could suspend/immobilize her arm. She attended the conference sans cast, but looking superb. Now that’s tough!
Are you aware that the PBA-endorsed malpractice insurance carrier now offers a premium discount if you employ a professional business manager at your firm? That should certainly tell you something about the impact professional management can have just in the risk management area.
If you want to find out more about what a professional business manager can do for your firm, no matter how small, check out the resources, particularly the job description, on the web site of the Association of Legal Administrators.
If you’d like to know more about other administrative management positions in law firms, take a look at my article entitled How Many Non-Lawyers Does It Take To Run A Law Firm?