Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

Category: Manager

Jan 09, 2019

Law Firm Management – Held Hostage by Office Manager or Bookkeeper


I am a partner is a small family law firm in Tucson, Arizona. There are two partners in the firm and two associates. We have an office manager/bookkeeper, a receptionist, and two legal assistants. The office manager was hired one year ago. The other partner is retiring next year and I am purchasing the practice from him. I became a partner last year. I am new to the management side of the practice and have been relying on the office manager who also serves as our bookkeeper. I am at my wits ends with our office manager and I believe that she is not suited for the position. She has no organizational skills, she misses deadlines, vendor bills are not paid on time, and client bills are not sent out accurately and timely. I have counselled her on numerous occasions to no avail. I believe we need to replace her but I am reluctant since no one else here knows what she does or how she does it. A new billing and accounting system was implemented last year and she was the only one trained on the system. What do we do if we terminate her or she quits? We are hostages. I would appreciate any ideas of thoughts that you may have.


I understand and appreciate your situation. It sounds like you have not documented your procedures in the form of a firm procedures manual and everything is in the office manager’s head. This makes it difficult for someone to take over her responsibilities if she leaves the firm for whatever reason but not impossible. It will probably be difficult to get her to develop one now as it may signal to her that her time with the firm is short and she may start looking for another position. You may have to just bit the bullet, terminate her, restaff the position, and go from there.  It won’t be fun but you will make it though. You might consider the following:

  1. The office manager probably has handwritten notes, etc. that she has used to roughly document how she does things. Collect these and review these.
  2. Contact your billing and accounting software provider and have them help you will any training needs you have as well as procedural issues. Back in my old life when I did software work with law firms I often was called and assisted firms with such situations.

After you get the position staffed and past the crisis develop a detailed written manual of procedures for the office. Not just the office management side but the client service side – attorneys and paralegals as well.

I believe that it is imperative that owners and partners in a law firm have access to financial information on a timely basis, understand the information, and use the information in a proactive way to manage the practice. I suggest:

  1. The owner, or an appointed partner(s) in larger firms, obtain a basic level of understanding in basic accounting/bookkeeping and law firm financial management.
  2. The owner, or an appointed partner(s) in larger firms, obtain detailed training on the accounting software system(s) along-side the bookkeeper when the system is implemented. In addition to general operation of the software, special training should also be obtained on interpretation and use of the management reports.
  3. Insure that you have accounting controls in place and appropriate segregation of accounting duties.
  4. Outline your expectations and requirements of the office manager/bookkeeper, meet with her/him, and communicate appropriately.

Click here for a bookkeeper listing of duties.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC


Nov 24, 2015

Law Firm Business Development/Marketing Manager Position


I am the managing partner of a twenty seven lawyer insurance defense firm in Orlando, Florida. In the last seven years we have grown from ten lawyers to twenty seven. Our firm is very dependent upon a handful of insurance companies and we are looking at ways to diversify our practice. Our rapid growth has caused us to outgrow our management structure. A few years ago we hired our first firm administrator to manage the business operations of the firm. We are now considering establishing a business development/marketing position to help focus our business development efforts. I would appreciate your thoughts.


I would start by giving some thought to your organizational structure overall. How and where does this position line up with the other management positions in the firm? Will the position report to the firm administrator or will the position be equal in stature to the firm administrator and report to the managing partner or executive committee? What will be the title of the position – marketing director, director of business development, business development manager, etc.? Will the position have assistants/direct reports? What are the position's performance expectations and duties?

Often law firms do not have a successful experience with their first business development/marketing manager. Typically this is a result of not taking the time to define the position, performance expectations, required skills and competencies, and hiring a candidate with the maturity and leadership required to be successful in the role.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. For the initial position – use a title similar to Business Development or Marketing Manager (Director of Business Development at such time in the future as the administrator's role grows warranting the title of Executive Director or Director of Administration).
  2. Have a position equal in stature to the Firm Administrator with both reporting to the managing partner or executive committee.
  3. Develop a sound position description


The business development manager is responsible for the management of all aspects of business development within the firm and supports business development initiatives within the firm. This management will occur either through direct activities, direct reports or delegation to subordinate staff. Responsibilities include but are not limited to:

  1. Develop, recommend, and manage the firm marketing plan.
  2. Supervise marketing support personnel.
  3. Support the firm, practice groups, and individual attorney's business development initiatives and programs.
  4. Recommend markets and projects to pursue.
  5. Track and follow-up firm marketing and business development leads.
  6. Manage firm business relationships.
  7. Direct internal and external firm marketing and business communications.
  8. Represent the firm at trade shows and other events.
  9. Manage marketing and business development events and activities.
  10. Write the firm newsletter.
  11. Update and maintain the firm website.
  12. Develop and maintain the firm brochure.
  13. Participate in the strategic planning process.
  14. Hire, train, and coach marketing staff, practice group chairs, and individual attorneys

Doing your homework upfront will pay dividends and insure that the position is successful.     

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

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