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by Mark Powers and Shawn McNalis

The task of writing job descriptions is often viewed as difficult because most of us are not skilled at identifying the separate tasks that make up a staff position. If you are given the responsibility to create job descriptions for your staff, it can seem nearly impossible to describe everything they do amidst the chaos of the typical law office. It is possible, however, to isolate and identify the tasks that make up a job and articulate them clearly if you follow our three-step formula.

Step 1: Decide what type of work is to be done.

Step 2: Decide what personality characteristics the person should possess.

Step 3: List skills you believe this person needs to complete their job efficiently.

1. What type of work is to be done?

First, think of the different activities that this person is expected to perform. These should all be in the form of observable behaviors or activities. To help you, the tasks listed below (in no particular order) are those most often performed in the law office by staff members. Review the list and underline the brief descriptions that apply to the job you are describing. Then, write the percentage of time you expect that person to spend on each underlined task.

Typical staff activities/tasks

Research; cite-check; collect information/documents; acquire records; process/input data; copy; file; collate; sort incoming mail; open/close/supervise files; draft (memos, letters, orders, pleadings); prepare forms; answer telephones; greet clients; support clients; maintain office equipment; order supplies; schedule attorney time; handle bookkeeping; train; oversee file storage; oversee support staff; recruit; hire/fire; run errands; assist at meetings; transcribe; take dictation; manage office systems; meet with attorneys; manage firm budget; manage employee benefits; oversee marketing; create/administer policies and procedures; manage the firm Web site.

Once you have the tasks identified, assemble them together in paragraph form adding more descriptors as you see fit. This part should be fairly simple to do, but below are a few examples for mid-level staff in the law office as well as variations for legal assistants and paralegals in larger firms. These descriptions concentrate on daily activities and do not include the personality traits and skill sets preferred. Those can be added in by following steps two and three.

  • Legal Assistant/Paralegal — assists the attorney by handling factual research, cite-checking, acquiring records, and assembling and preparing documents. This position often requires substantial client contact in the form of meetings and phone calls.
  • Firm Administrator/Office Manager – manages the firm’s finances including the firm budget, and supervises the bookkeeper and collections process. This position requires supervision and training of non-legal staff, coordination of attorney hiring, management of the firm’s telephone and computer systems and maintenance of office equipment and supplies.
  • Legal Assistant Manager (Supervisor, Director of Legal Assistant Services or Paralegal Coordinator) – recruits, interviews and hires legal assistants. This position requires substantial management time.
  • Senior Legal Assistant — trains and supervises legal assistants or case managers. This position may meet the firm criteria for senior status and may require a specialist in a practice area.
  • Specialist — provides special services to clients such as nurse consultant or environmental technician.
  • Legal Assistant Clerk — generally works under the supervision of a legal assistant to perform clerical duties such as document numbering, labeling folders, filing and other tasks that require no substantive knowledge of matter or litigation.

2. What personality traits does this person need to possess?

Look at the dominant tasks you have identified as part of the job description and decide what personality traits the position requires. For example, if you are hiring someone who will need to work with clients on a regular basis, then that person will need good people skills. If research or filing will be a major function of the job with little or no client contact, then someone who is detail oriented will be best suited for the position. Review the following list of personality traits and circle those best suited for the job description you are composing.

Personality traits

Good people skills; enthusiastic; diplomatic; poised; systematic; attentive to detail; takes initiative; cautious; assertive; amiable; helpful; outspoken; a team player; calm; thorough; cheerful; cooperative; analytical; empathetic; gregarious; self-managing; practical; a perfectionist; methodical; high-energy; agreeable.

When hiring to fill your open positions, consider using personality testing to determine if your candidates match the personality trait requirements you have identified. There is less than a 15 percent chance of getting a good fit between an employee and a job if you rely on your own instincts. However, if you use personality testing, your chances of getting a good match climb to 80 percent. It is important to administer the personality test prior to the interview — the less the candidate knows about the type of person you are looking for, the more accurate the test will be.

3. What skills do they need?

When listing the skills you want this person to possess, think about the abilities needed to perform daily tasks. Remember the Rule of Three: if you are hiring a time-keeper, you must be able to generate three times the salary in billings. So look for the lowest paid person with the greatest number of skills.

If you currently have a staff member in the position that you want to describe, request that this person keep a log of his activities for a week to capture where his time is spent. This will point to his dominant functions. Ask him to then think of what reoccurring activities he performs on a monthly or annual basis to capture less frequently occurring tasks. Put it all together, and you should have a pretty good idea of this person’s job description — without spending a lot of time.

After completing this job description exercise it should be easy to write an advertisement for the position. Pick up the key words used in your job description and reformat them for use in your ad. If you are writing an ad for on-line recruiting, you can write a longer, more descriptive ad because there are fewer limitations on space. Remember to use key words that a candidate would use when searching a job database.

By following our three-step formula for writing accurate job descriptions, you will increase your odds of hiring the best candidates for the jobs you have available. Good luck!

Firm Administrator

Small, rapidly growing law firm seeks a Firm Administrator to lead our support team. Responsibilities include hiring, training and scheduling support staff; coordinating attorney hiring; maintaining office equipment and supplies; and managing filing and storage facilities. Candidates should have extensive experience in office and human resource management. Compensation depends on experience and will be competitive. Send resume to:

Office Manager

A nine-lawyer firm seeks an Office Manager with management experience and financial, computer and human resource skills. Experience in a law firm is preferred. In conjunction with the Managing Partner, the Office Manager will be responsible for working on firm budgeting, expenditures and employee benefits; supervising and training of employees, overseeing marketing and Web page; administering firm policies and procedures; and managing the computer network. Excellent compensation package. Please send resume to:

Atticus, Inc.

This article was written by an Atticus staff member.

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