How to Run a Law Firm | Who to Hire: Administrative Assistant

administrative assistant

No matter how small your law firm is, it can’t run without help. Most attorneys are skilled in the courtroom and know the ins and outs of their field of law, but that does not mean they have the skills to handle the administrative aspects of their firm. Having the right team — beyond just attorneys — is essential to running a law firm. And part of that right team includes administrative assistants.

The size and workload of your law firm will determine the number of administrative assistants you need. Some smaller firms might share one administrative assistant, or a partner may have an administrative assistant that also works with the associates. In a mid-sized firm, you may need a few. But even solo practitioners will likely need the help of an administrative assistant.

The question is how to go about hiring the right assistant.

What Is an Administrative Assistant?

administrative assistant

An administrative assistant performs several administrative duties for an attorney or a few attorneys within a law firm. They schedule appointments and coordinate firm events or meetings. They often answer and field calls for the attorneys, or greet clients when they come in. They may type up emails and legal documents as well as mail and file legal documents.

In some firms, an administrative assistant and a secretary are more or less synonymous. However, typically an administrative assistant has a more active role in the firm’s management than a secretary. Their job may overlap with office management and bookkeeping. They may also assist attorneys with research and are often responsible for the management of long-term projects.

Why Is an Administrative Assistant Necessary?

Older generations of attorneys often rely on administrative assistants to handle administrative tasks they were never trained in. They may not be comfortable with modern technology and software, or they may not have the time to learn the difference between sending a document by registered mail or certified mail.

Younger attorneys that have grown up in the digital age may be a little savvier regarding those administrative skills. However, even for attorneys who could handle their administrative work on their own, it usually helps to have an assistant. An administrative assistant saves the attorney time so that they can focus on preparing cases or helping their clients. Attorneys are also often at court or on the road; administrative assistants can work from the office if something comes up while the attorney is out.

What To Look For In an Administrative Assistant Job Candidate

Administrative assistants do not typically have to have a college degree, though some law firms prefer that they have at least an Associate’s degree. Because this is more or less an entry-level position, you’re likely to be swarmed with resumes soon after you post the job. So how do you narrow it down?

Here are a few traits you’ll want to look for in an administrative assistant job candidate:

Attention to Detail

Attention to detail is essential in an administrative assistant. This is a detail-oriented position, whether it’s keeping schedules in order, keeping track of inventory, researching, or drafting emails. Cutting corners will lead to little discrepancies that build up over time. A meticulous administrative assistant may be able to catch errors that even you miss.

Proficiency in Your Office Software

The most common office software used for word processing and organization is the Microsoft Office Suite. This will include Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, Teams, OneNote, PowerPoint, and OneDrive. While your administrative assistant may not need to use all of these, they should at least know the ins and outs of Word, Excel, and Outlook. 

Fluency in Two or More Languages

Bilingual administrative assistants can be a boon to law offices. In the United States, attorneys may find themselves with clients who primarily speak Spanish. If your administrative assistant can speak and write Spanish fluently, that will put the client more at ease. In Canada, fluency in written French is just as valuable. 

Ability to Multitask

Administrative assistants will have a lot on their plate, especially when you’re dealing with one or more complex cases. A great assistant job candidate will be able to rise to the occasion. Good organizational skills and a strong work ethic can help administrative assistants from drowning under the workload. 

Cheerful, Outgoing Demeanor

Your administrative assistant will often serve as the go-between for you and the client. They will answer phone calls, schedule meetings, and greet the client when they arrive to meet you. That’s why assistants should be cheerful and upbeat so that the client feels more comfortable. A positive, outgoing assistant will also more likely be a team player, which can boost office morale.

Salary Range For Administrative Assistants

Administrative assistant salary ranges vary depending on location and cost of living. According to Salary.com, average salaries range from $36,667-$57,327. GlassDoor reports a range of $31,000-$52,000. 

Administrative assistants with experience or a college degree are more likely to ask for a higher salary rate, while those at entry level will ask for something towards the lower end of the scale. The position has plenty of room to grow and receive bonuses and annual raises.

Questions To Ask During the Interview

Once you’ve gone through resumes and narrowed down the list of appealing job candidates, it’s time to schedule interviews. The questions you choose for your administrative assistant interview will help you identify the right candidate for the job. Some of the best questions to include are:

“What Role Do You Think An Administrative Assistant Should Play?”

This question will give you insight into how hands-on a job candidate will be. It will also tell you whether or not you and the candidate have compatible expectations. Your office may only need an administrative assistant for secretarial duties or you may want an assistant who can help with office management and research. 

Does the job candidate’s answer line up with your needs?

“What Software Are You Proficient With?”

Microsoft Office is almost always a must for an administrative assistant. However, your assistant may need to use your workflow or accounting software. It’s a good idea to make sure they are proficient in all the necessary software and equipment.

“Describe a Past Project You’re Proud To Have Helped With.”

This will speak to the job candidate’s experience, as well as their strengths in the role of an administrative assistant. It’s a much more engaging and practical way to gauge their strengths than asking, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” 

“What Do You Find Most Challenging About the Administrative Assistant Role?” 

This is the reverse of the above question — a better way of gauging the candidate’s weaknesses. It may also offer them an opportunity to show off their problem-solving skills by sharing how they overcame those challenges.

“What Style of Management Do You Work Best With?”

This, again, should give you a sense of compatibility. If the job candidate prefers very hands-on management but you don’t have the time or capacity to offer that, it likely won’t be the best fit. 

“What Are Your Salary Expectations?” 

As we showed above, the average salary for administrative assistants falls within a wide range. Know the job candidate’s salary expectations and how that aligns with your budget. You can also get a sense of this by knowing the average salaries for administrative assistants and whether their salary expectations are a fair request given the qualifications listed on their resumes.

Finding the Right Job Candidate and Hiring Them

There may be a candidate that stands out immediately in job interviews. On the other hand, you may need to discuss with others in your firm before coming to a decision. Once you have a candidate in mind, you’ve gone through their references and performed a background check, you can send them an offer. They may have received an offer of employment elsewhere, in which case you might need to negotiate salary and benefits to win them over, depending on how much you want that candidate.

Once the paperwork is signed and they’re an official employee, there will be a brief period of training. If you have an office manager, they may be able to train your administrative assistant. Or another assistant may be able to train them. 

If you have IT, they might have to set your new assistant up on their computer. If you have a smaller office, orientation may involve you showing them what you need them to do for each task and then letting them get to work. An administrative assistant is a fairly entry-level position, so they should be able to pick it up quickly — especially if they have experience.

Overall, a good administrative assistant can make all the difference in your law office, making them a valuable investment for your firm.

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