• Transitioning from a legal support role to office manager can be a logical and high-paying career move
  • Paralegals seeking to make the switch should ensure they have the proper education or experience to do so
  • Office manager positions require sound and demonstrable leadership capabilities and emotional intelligence

Introduction

Transitioning from the role of legal assistant or paralegal to office manager can be one of the best and rewarding ways for experienced legal staff to advance their career and improve their income. Many office mangers make upwards of six figures, and even more at larger firms. However, the role of office manager is not easy, or easy to attain, and there are many things hopeful professionals should know before pursuing this path. In this article, we will explore just a few points to consider.

The Pay is Great, but There are Typically Educational Requirements

From a purely financial standpoint, the move to office manger makes complete sense. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average office manger salary for 2019 was $100,930, which is more than many attorneys make. Additionally, the BLS projected a 7% increase for roles like office managers, which we have certainly seen come to fruition in the Florida market. It is a certainty that many high-paying office manger jobs will be available to legal professionals in the future.  

However, there is an educational caveat. Typically, most office mangers will need to possess an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies or law office administration. Additionally, many law firms will seek out candidates with a master’s degree in law firm management.  

Educational requirements will vary based upon the candidate’s experience and demonstrable management capabilities. For example, someone who has been in the industry for a long time, or who demonstrates a willingness to step up and take charge, may be able to advance to office manger with less educational credentials. Absent education, it is up to the candidate to demonstrate they are ready.  

Experience is a Big Component, Especially when Promoting within the Same Firm

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: experience. Typically, law firms are going to want an office manger who really knows their way around their practice, much less the practice of law in general. This may require an awful lot of experience. But don’t let this deter you.

There are two ways to move into an office manger position: (1) by moving laterally to another firm; or (2) by promoting within the same firm. Promotions are much more common because lawyers, being the risk-averse type, want someone they know they can count on. However, it isn’t uncommon to bring in someone from outside the organization who has the necessary experience, management capabilities, and professional ‘separation’ from other staff to perform the job effectively.  

If you are transitioning into an office manager position at a new firm, you should be able to demonstrate familiarity with the relevant practice area. A sound knowledge of, for example, personal injury law, will carry over very well into an office manager position at a new personal injury firm. Additionally, candidates should be ready to show they have managed or are capable of managing other legal professionals.

If you are promoting within the same firm, the strategy is somewhat similar, but presents its own unique challenges. First, you will be competing with all other support staff for that coveted high-paying position. You will need a reputation within the firm, and the attorneys you have worked with, as being reliable, consistent, and possessing a deep sense of professional duty. Second, you will need to show that you are capable of managing – even if you have only managed a set of cases, a client, or new attorneys. Take every opportunity to step up and demonstrate your ability to meet and overcome these managerial challenges.

Be Prepared to Manage and Work Like a Manager

As the name implies, and as we have discussed above, office managers must be prepared to manage. This sometimes means being the ‘tough’ one in the room and may not be suitable for all personalities. The firm has an objective, whether that be casework, profit, or both, and when you step into the role of office manager, that objective becomes your priority.

Effective managers know how to deal with people and address multiple different personalities. They know when to push the gas pedal and when it’s time to ask questions. Responsible managers lead from the front and are comfortable with being the first one to the office and the last one to leave. They praise their subordinates publicly and address concerns privately. They make their vision for the organization clear and provide even clearer feedback to their subordinates.

This is not to say that every office manager must be as charismatic as a Wall Street CEO, or as inspiring as a Elon Musk. However, office mangers must possess at least some of these traits to be successful. And in the end, their effectiveness and longevity in the position will be dependent on their ability to lead well and inspire other employees.

Bringing it All Together

Making the switch from a paralegal or assistant role to office manager is not easy, but can be an extremely rewarding and logical career move for those ready to make the transition. If you would like to pursue this career path, you should seek out the necessary education and experience required to meet its demands. Additionally, you should seek out opportunities to demonstrate managerial competence and grow in your competence as a manager.

Authors Note:
Palma Process Servers is a veteran-owned process service company headquartered in Jacksonville, FL. Palma specializes in easy, fast, and compliant service of process delivered when and where you need it throughout the greater Jacksonville area. With the mission of providing exceptional service to as many law firms as possible, we are always seeking new clients. Contact us today at admin@palmaprocess.com or www.palmaprocess.com.  

The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.