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The Business of Running a Law Firm

February 1, 2018

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While lawyers practice law, arguing cases and working with clients, someone has to run the business side.

At Tully Rinckey in Albany, New York, Graig Cortelyou’s responsibilities as chief operating officer involve planning for growth and hiring, as well as managing changes that come out of legislation like the federal tax reform.

For example, the firm is splitting into two entities to take advantage

 of the new tax law that passed in December. That was an idea by Mat Tully, one of the founding partners. While the lawyers will continue to operate as a PLLC, the other employees will report to a new entity.

“The non-lawyers will report to a new corporate entity that’s a general corporation that would fall under the corporate requirements to take advantage of the 21 percent rate,” Cortelyou said.

Cortelyou didn’t yet know which type of entity the firm will use. He also did not yet have an estimate for how much the firm could save, but said it could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

He has been with Tully Rinckey for almost 11 years. He studied business administration and graphic design in college, started at Tully Rinckey in marketing, and has moved up the ranks from there.

“The biggest challenge in my position is figuring out, not just leading the firm, but how to motivate those people,” he said. “It might be money, it might be responsibilities, it might be recognition — it could be a variety of things, it could be none of those things.”

He looks for ways to help the firm operate more efficiently, including by hiring support staff.

“We’re looking to do everything possible to offload the administrative responsibilities of the attorneys,” he said, and “make the attorneys as efficient as possible.”

Kyle Fish fills the administrator role at FitzGerald Morris Baker Firth in Glens Falls. He said the job isn’t so different from his previous work in insurance.

“It’s just a lot of day-to-day details. You have to enjoy that, and aside from that, it’s pretty straightforward. It’s not that different than running any other business,” Fish said. “When you’re in a firm with 30 to 35 employees, you wear all the hats as the administrator and you have to be comfortable with that.”

Fish has been with the firm for seven years. He works on business strategies to keep the firm moving forward.

“Where do we help to look for new opportunities for bringing in clients and new industries that seem to be leaping ahead and others that seem to be falling behind?” he said. Fish also thinks about advertising strategies, and ways to connect with emerging industries and clients.

Scott Adelmann followed what he considers to be a common path to becoming an administrator. He started as a legal assistant out of college, then worked as a paralegal and took a course in accounting. In 2016, he joined Maynard, O’Connor, Smith & Catalinotto LLP in Albany.

“I found when you look around at the other administrators, a lot of people in the position have been at the paralegal or legal secretary position and have grown into the role at their firm,” Adelmann said.

Attorneys are trained to argue. So how do administrators make their case?

“When it comes to the partners, I really try not to take sides because they are the partners and for me, I’m there to facilitate, not to take sides,” Adelmann said. “This is a larger firm than where I came from, so when you come from three partners to 10 partners, there’s a lot more opinions that are presented.”

Cortelyou, too, said that plays into his thinking on issues he’s going to present.

“We think very carefully about what we say before we say it and we prepare for that argument,” Cortelyou said. “If we’re implementing something that’s really hard, we’re thinking about what that attorney’s going to say to argue against it.”

Adelmann keeps one goal in mind.

“Our jobs are to allow our attorneys to practice law. That’s the ultimate goal,” he said, “and so everything we do should be striving to that end.”

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