A recent article in Corporate Counsel discusses administrators of law departments. The author notes that the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) just added its 10,000th member, but that only two percent of them work for companies. A decade ago, if I recall correctly from speaking before the Corporate/Government Section of the ALA, as many as 450 belonged.
The drop off in membership in no way reflects a decline in the number of legal department administrators. It more likely implicates budget restrictions by general counsel and perhaps the perceptions of many potential in-house ALA members that the shrinking Section did not provide enough value. After all, the Association of Corporate Counsel of America (now ACC) came into existence partly because of dissatisfaction with the minority position of in-house lawyers in the ABA. Possibly, too, political rifts diminished the effectiveness of the Section or entrenched leadership did not move with the times or high-powered chief operating officers saw too little commonality with small-department or low-status administrative staff. But, whatever the reason, a drop off in the number of serving administrators of law departments in the United States was certainly not one of them.
Not that we know how many “administrators” there are. The article quotes a “magic number” of 50 lawyers that determines whether it is cost-effective to hire an administrator but that threshold is much too high. A consultant notes that law departments with as few as 20 lawyers “usually have one.” I put the number much lower. In fact, my book, Law Department Benchmarks: Myths, Metrics and Management, suggests that the tipping point is around ten lawyers, meaning that as many departments of that size have an administrator role as don’t. The role, to be sure, has much ambiguity, since some secretaries serve in an administrative role.