Best Practices – New Competencies for Legal Administrators

Law firm business requirements are changing faster than ever, and professionals supporting the business are experiencing firsthand an evolution in their job descriptions. New competencies and a strong grasp on legal project management principles are needed for the future of legal administrators.


In the Association of Legal Administrators’ most recent knowledge, skills and abilities analysis, nine new competencies were added. Past studies have averaged two to three competency additions; this reflects how quickly the pace of change has increased. Legal administration professionals should have knowledge of these emerging competencies:


  • Alternative fee arrangements (e.g., bonus-based, flat fee, taskbased,
    volume discounts)
  • Client matter budgeting as it relates to electronic billing and/
    or allocation of firm time and resources


  • Substance abuse issues in the workplace (e.g., intervention
    techniques, assessment and treatment resources)


  • Client relationship management (CRM) software
  • Outsourcing resources and related benefits (e.g., office
    services, IT, payroll, records)


  • Firm dissolution procedures (e.g., partner liability, retirement
    plans, insurance, outplacement)


  • Mobile communication devices (e.g., smartphones, tablets)
    and their uses


  • How to implement and maintain wellness programs
  • Meeting facilitation protocol and procedures (e.g., Robert’s
    Rules of Order)


Along with the new competencies identified, legal administrators are realizing legal project management (LPM) principles can be used at the outset of each matter to analyze strategy and the client’s desired results. In using LPM to deliver cost certainty to clients, the legal project manager uses the client’s desired outcomes to develop a plan of action and determine the most efficient ways to deliver results. LPM draws on resources and expertise found throughout the firm: management, practice groups, accounting and finance, technology, marketing and business development, professional development and knowledge management. Understanding how all those areas fit together and can collaborate is essential to the success of LPM. Several of the legal administrator competencies previously listed are directly related to the skills needed to incorporate LPM into a firm’s practices.


With the flurry of new and changing roles, it will be important for legal administrators and leadership to widen their competencies to include those identified by ALA’s recent survey. Those who can grow their skills and incorporate LPM can look forward to taking on expanded leadership roles with a strategic focus.


Let’s say you have a litigation case involving 15 co-defendants.

How can LPM help?

Initial Discovery: The LPM review determines that five key co-defendants bear 80 percent of the liability in the matter. Instead of deposing all 15 co-defendants at the outset (which involves travel, attorney time, court reporter time and expenses for each), the firm decides to depose only the five major co-defendants, cutting costs for the client and allowing client and attorney to reassess their strategy.

Deposition Preparation: Rather than the lead partner on
the matter drafting questions for the deposition, that task is turned over to a newer associate. The associate assigns a paralegal to review and order the records needed to assess liability, with further review by an expert in the client’s field. Assigning tasks to less expensive personnel who are still able to provide the appropriate level of client service results in greater efficiency and cost control, and contributes to meeting the client’s requirements.

Budget: The legal project manager and the attorney work with the director of pricing or pricing specialist, two more evolving roles in a firm. This person thoroughly understands the cost structures of each of the individuals working on the matter and can access historical data to determine the amount of time needed to carry out the various tasks. The more often LPM is used to plan and structure client work, the easier it becomes to make it standard practice in the firm. Checklists and templates developed for one matter can easily be adapted for others; firmwide best practices evolve over time and contribute to profitability. When it becomes an integral part of running the law firm as a business, legal project management adds value and contributes to the bottom line.



Aderant announced the latest release of Aderant Total Office (formerly Client Profiles), Aderant’s case management system. The Total Office 9.1 service pack 6 release provides law firms with new and enhanced features, including a simplified desktop documents display, additional redaction settings for maintaining client privacy, heightened data security for bank account information and configuration support for SQL Server 2014.

Bellefield Systems, LLC announced a formal Engagement Program. The Engagement Program, the first of its kind in the legal industry, is structured to maximize engagement among all timekeepers in the firm and instill better timekeeping practices in order to increase profitability for the firm.

DocsCorp announced the release of cleanDocs Mobile, a complement to its next generation metadata management software – cleanDocs Desktop, which was released earlier in the year. cleanDocs is built on a series of new technologies pioneered by DocsCorp that have enabled a new approach to protecting organizations from unintentional information leaks – unified metadata management.

Handshake Software, Inc. announced Handshake Expertise Locator, an add-on application to the popular SP Bridge enterprise search solution. Expertise Locator helps law firms running SharePoint identify
expertise by providing rankings based on documents, biographies, contacts, clients, matters, time entries and other content sources.
HotDocs launched an innovative new e-commerce platform, HotDocs Market. HotDocs Market provides attorneys with libraries of professionally crafted, customizable legal documents and forms from multiple legal publishers and Bar Associations, all created and delivered using HotDocs software.

Liquid Litigation Management, Inc. has launched a new iPad Timelines app. The app is fully integrated with the LLM, Inc.’s Liquid Lit Manager. For those who are not currently using the powerful webbased tool, a standalone app is also available.

NetDocuments announced the acquisition of Decisiv Email from Recommind, an information intelligence company focused on advanced analytics for discovery and investigations. This acquisition includes Decisiv Email’s development team as well as the technology.

Nexidia announced significant enhancements to its legal discovery application, Nexidia Search. Nexidia Search will incorporate the company’s Neural Phonetic Speech Analytics to provide improved workflow and discovery tools for the review of audio evidence.

nQueue announced the launch of iA Print Anywhere, which reduces cost and improves security by disassociating the sending of a print job from the releasing of it at the device. iA Print Anywhere is available as an optional component of iA Print Manager.

Rocket Matter announced Marketplace, an online store for additional services. The Rocket Matter Marketplace will initially feature Internet Marketing Services (IMS), including website, logo and social media design work, as well as the company’s highly regarded educational content.

About the Author

Teresa Walker is the President-Elect of the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) and Chief Operating Officer at Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP. She serves on ALA’s Large Firm Administrators Steering Committee and is a Trustee of The Foundation of ALA. Teresa is also a Lifetime and Founding Member of the Middle Tennessee Chapter of ALA. In October 2014, she was inducted into the College of Law Practice Management at its 2014 Futures Conference. Contact her at

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