Practice Managers in a solicitor’s firm – who are they and how do you get a job as one?
Practice Managers are usually the most senior administrative member of staff in a solicitors’ firm or company. In a lot of firms they are expected to have a considerable and varied amount of experience with tasks including suppliers, dealing with recruitment, making sure the company books are kept up to date, liaising with Companies House, liaising with the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority, dealing with the solicitors’ firms’ accounts, filing, administrative tasks, filleting files and file storage, answering telephone calls, dealing with clients and on some occasions interviewing them, billing files and liaising with external cost agencies and everything else you can possibly think of.
In my time in recruitment I have come across solicitors’ firms who expect their practice manager to also clean the offices from time to time as well as maintain the office garden and make the senior partner cups of tea. However, in this day and age it is usual for a practice manager to have very specific and defined roles within the company, particularly if the law firm are Lexcel accredited or striving towards this.
There is a lot of confusion in the role because so many firms expect such different people, salary bands and experience in their post of practice manager. Quite a few practices have what could be termed directors rather than managers in the role with qualifications such as an MBA or an accountancy qualification. When firms are recruiting at this sort of level, salary levels and expectations tend to be quite high. In roles where the practice manager is more of an admin person or legal secretary with a few extra responsibilities, then the salary levels are likely to be towards the lower end.
In recent times salary levels have been considerably varied and examples of these include practice managers in high street firms earning somewhere in the region of about £28,000 to £35,000 in most areas of the country. Where the law firm are looking more for a director/chief executive but using the wrong terminology, or perhaps needing someone to also be the firm’s legal cashier or oversee the firm’s finances, then the rates are likely to go up from around these levels to £35,000 to £45,000.
In roles where the work is essentially that of a director overseeing budgets, planning, financial management and other similar things, then the salary can be anything up to £65,000 or £70,000.
For roles at the lower end, you simply need to demonstrate experience to make a move from one practice to another. In the more senior and better paid roles the firm will expect you to demonstrate what you can do for them which invariably involves showing cost savings, new business generated and systems you have put in place that either generate or save money for the business.
In the vast majority of cases a practice manager does not need to have any qualifications, but it will be very unlikely that you would get a role as a practice manager without at least a GCSE at grade A, B or C in maths and English, if not an education to A level standard or degree. An accountancy qualification or an MBA will stand you in good stead for a role in a larger practice where they are looking for you to be a director rather than a manager, but again these qualifications on their own will add very little to your chances of success. It is experience and demonstrable skills that will get you into a role paying a good salary.
Practice managers tend to be very loyal to firms and stay with them for considerable amounts of time, and candidates who have moved about a lot do not tend to go down well with potential employers. Solicitors are a funny lot and they view such applicants with hostility. This is particularly so for practice managers and support staff.