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3 Mistakes Lawyers Make when Hiring an Admin

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 08, 2015 11:02 AM

Hiring support staff is always a risky endeavor, something which requires you to place faith in absolute strangers and hope they can deliver. When hiring an admin, the risks can be even greater, as a firm administrator is often the most senior non-lawyer employee.

That's why firms should tread carefully and search rigorously. Do things the wrong way and you'll be left with a headache. So don't learn from your mistakes, avoid them in the first place. Here's three pitfalls to steer clear off in your admin search:

1. Role Confusion

Administrators can play many roles in a firm, from helping with marketing and business development, to financial management, human resources, or technology implementation. While many admins will play multiple roles in a firm, beware looking for someone who is, as the saying goes, jack of all trades, master of none.

Be sure to have a clear understanding of just what roles you want your admin to play and search for candidates with experience that matches. Are you looking for an H.R. guru, a financial wiz or someone who will help retool your firm's tech? If your firm has let the role evolve around a departing administrator, take this chance to review the position from scratch, thinking about what you'll want it to be in its new iteration.

2. Getting Distracted by Titles

Since administrators' roles can vary so greatly, so can the titles they come to you with. According the ABA's Law Practice magazine, the trend among mid-sized and larger firms has been to label administrators as Chief Operating Officers, but other common titles include executive director, director of administration, and chief administrator. But as Romeo asked, what's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet. It's the same with admins, so keep focused on your candidates' competencies and don't get distracted by titles.

3. Hiring from within the Firm, without a Thorough Vetting

You shouldn't treat hiring from within your firm's own talent pool as strictly verboten, but do be aware of the potential downsides involved. Moving an admin up from within the firm means they know the firm's structure, culture and operations, and it means you are familiar with their strengths. Internal hires are also cheaper. But it's not all roses.

You'll want to avoid "elevating to incompetence." This happens when you take employees who are great at their positions and move them to new ones where their skills no longer shine. At this point, you're in a bind, forced to search again for a competent administrator while also risking the loss of a formerly great employee. Similarly, an employee who was once equal with other support staff may struggle when asked to now manage them.

Of course, many internal hires can be great. Just make sure you consider their qualifications as skeptically and rigorously as you would an external candidate.

Hopefully, if you can avoid these pitfalls, the transition to a new administrator will be smooth and painless. If not, you may be back hunting for new candidates in no time.

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