Think the paralegal profession is a static one? Think again. Taking what you learn as a paralegal and exploring other professional roles in business is not only possible, it’s actually more common than you might think.
This certainly is the case with the contract administrator profession, a role that is getting more attention as businesses look to ensure full due diligence is done under the eye of a legal expert when writing, reviewing and amending contracts. In fact, you’ll find the legal knowledge and expertise you’ve acquired as a paralegal will be right at home working in this important subsection of contract law.
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Contracts are inseparable from business and commerce, with every stage of the supply chain, production cycle and sales and marketing processes involving outside parties that all need to have a clear document in place describing their legal obligations under the agreement…
When a manufacturer works with a supplier to get the materials they need to make a product…. When a major brand outsources the manufacturing of a product or component to a factory overseas… When a retailer contracts with a logistics company to get their products into retail outlets… When a large company hires on new permanent employees… When a business gives a marketing firm a budget for turning shoppers into customers… When a real estate developer hires a construction firm to build a new strip mall… When a construction company sub-contracts out elements of the project to cement masons, glazers, electricians, machine operators and dozens of other specialty construction trade companies. And on and on.
From hospitals and healthcare facilities, to construction companies and contractors, to insurance and finance companies, to colleges and universities, to energy companies and engineering firms, to government agencies; contracts are what set parameters related to commercial and official agreements, guide the processes that follow, and bind all parties to uphold their obligations.
Though contract administrators work on behalf of one party in a contract, they serve as a liaison with the outside party to ensure negotiations and amendments go smooth.
Even after a contract is awarded, contract administrators stay in the loop, working to ensure the contract is being fulfilled and that customer service, budget, and operations are maintained throughout the contract relationship.
From Paralegal to Contract Administrator: The Evolution of the Traditional Paralegal
The law is a dynamic machine, changing and transforming according to the needs of business and government. And the paralegal profession moves right along with these changes, constantly being redefined in response to the dynamic nature of the legal system.
As you move along in your paralegal career, you will find yourself developing specialized knowledge and expertise in specific areas of law. This focused knowledge can take you into managerial roles, although many times these moves can be somewhat lateral—both in terms of salary and the core function of your job.
But there’s no reason why a paralegal needs to experience this kind of career stagnation. In fact, there are few other professions as well equipped as paralegals to be able to slide effortlessly into other areas of business. Companies need professionals with a strong grasp of contract law who are conversant in business, and are turning to paralegals to fill these positions.
For paralegals looking to break out of the traditional role, contract administration is a natural choice, making this a path that more and more paralegals are choosing to travel. And for good reason: A 2017 Robert Half survey found that the contract administrator/manager position earned top billing as a Legal Position in Demand throughout most regions of the U.S.
The survey identifies legal professionals with three or more years of experience who are “polished, adaptable, and team-oriented” as being “highly marketable.”
If you have a few years of experience under your belt, you’ve been recognized as being a leader in the law office, and you’re ready for a new challenge, it may be time to explore contract administration and how it could open up entirely new professional opportunities for you.
Common Job Requirements for Contract Administrators
We identified hundreds of contract administrator job listings throughout the nation, with the majority requiring some form of experience in the legal or business field. The following requirements were taken directly from contract administrator job posts:
- Minimum 5 years relevant experience as a paralegal in a transactional or contracts based practice or in contracts management, with in-house legal experience preferred.
- Concentration in Business Administration, Contract Law (Paralegal); knowledge and understanding of the language and legality of contractual binding terms and conditions – 3 years minimum
- Must have a bachelor’s degree in business administration or a related field; must have 5 to 7 years of government contracts experience working in an office environment
- College degree required, paralegal background preferred; 3 to 5 years of working experience
- Bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university with 2 to 3 years of related experience, or a paralegal certificate or degree and 4 to 5 years of related experience
Aside from candidates with an education in paralegal studies, many employers look for candidates with degrees/backgrounds in business, economics, accounting, and mathematics.
Certification as a Contract Manager
The National Contract Management Association (NCMA), the world’s leading professional resource for those in the field of contract management, offers professional certification for experienced professionals in the field of contract administration. These include:
Certified Federal Contracts Manager (CFCM)
- Requirements: One year of experience, 80 CPEs and a bachelor’s degree (waiver possible if with at least 10 years of experience in contract management)
- Passing the CFCM Exam
Certified Commercial Contracts Manager (CCCM)
- Requirements: One year of experience, 80 CPEs and an undergraduate degree (waiver possible)
- Passing the CCCM Exam
Certified Professional Contracts Manager (CPCM)
- Requirements: Five years of experience, 120 CPEs, and an undergraduate degree
- Passing the CPCM Exam
Contracts Can Be Vastly Different, but Managing Them Involves a Similar Set of Skills
Professionals involved in contract administration manage contracts, contract terms, deliverables, and deadlines. The contracts you could manage may be related to employee relations; purchase, sale or rental contracts, contracts related to new or existing business proposals, procurement contracts, subcontracted services related to everything from accounting to logistics to construction … and the list goes on, almost without end.
Of course, the nature of the contracts you manage will vary according to the industry, type of company you’re working for, and the role the company plays in a particular agreement, but in all cases duties and responsibilities are pretty similar. Simply put, the contract administrator is responsible for managing contracts on behalf of their employer.
This includes reviewing and drafting contracts, overseeing proposal planning and the administration of contracts, preparing related documents and amendments, negotiating terms and conditions of contracts, and supporting negotiation performed by account managers.
The management of contracts requires maintaining files for each contract and all correspondence, amendments, clarifications, and other information related to the contract. Contract administrators also ensure that contracts are executed in accordance with corporate policy.
This job also leans heavily on maintaining relationships between the company and its business partners, so your job will likely be as much about serving as a liaison as it is about managing contracts.
Contract administrators must establish and maintain working relationships with both internal and external business partners and coordinate communication with company clients, client counsel, and company counsel.
They solve conflicts, coordinate with all levels of management to evaluate contract strategies, and facilitate internal and external client relations. They also analyze the impact of making changes to a contract and any liability issues that may result.
Key Traits and Personality Strengths
Contract administrators are expected to be able to exercise independent judgment and discretion when negotiating contracts on behalf of their company and business partners. They must be able to maintain strict confidentiality and a high level of professionalism. They must also have strong oral and written communication skills, proofreading skills, and interpersonal skills.
Employers frequently seek experienced paralegals for contract administrator positions because of their proficiency in contracts and familiarity with contract law. Employers also know that paralegals can proactively anticipate matters, manage multiple issues, and easily adapt to new situations. Paralegals are also adept at working independently or as part of a team, a common requirement for contract administrators.
Salary Expectations for Contract Administrators
The Robert Half 2017 Salary Guide revealed the contract administrator profession to be one of the “Hot Positions,” slated for growth and salary increases in the coming years.
Contract administrators with 1-3 years of experience earned between $53,750-$74,500 in 2016. By 2017, this salary range jumped 4.7 percent to $56,250-$78,000. Contract administrators came out on top in terms of salary when compared to paralegals. In 2017, paralegals in mid-size law firms earned between $44,500-$59,250.
A similar increase took place for contract administrators with 4+ years of experience. These legal professionals earned between $71,750-$115,000 in 2016. By 2017, average salaries for these legal professionals increased 4.4 percent to between $76,750-$118,250. Again, contract administrators earned more than paralegals with similar experience. In 2017, paralegals with 4-6 years of experience at a midsize law firms earned between $61,750-$76,500.
Contract managers, who oversee a contract administration department, saw the highest jump in salary between 2016 and 2017—5.4 percent. In 2016, they earned between $80,500-$121,500. By 2017, this average salary range jumped to $83,250-$129,750. Senior/supervising paralegals at midsize law firms, on the other hand, earned just $70,500-$86,750 during the same period.
Conversation with a Contract Administrator
We talked to Angela M., who used her education and experience as a litigation paralegal to secure a position as a contract administrator with a major municipal authority in Pittsburgh, PA.
Q: How did your background prepare you for a job as a contract administrator?
A: I worked as a paralegal in litigation for about 10 years. I also had experience in insurance litigation, which prepared me for drafting open contracts. This job is not unlike working as a corporate paralegal, and I am still working for attorneys in a roundabout way.
Q: How does it differ from corporate law?
The largest difference is that I don’t need to keep track of my time because we are not billing clients.
Q: This must make it less stressful than a legal environment where you must maintain your time, right?
A: Definitely. In this position, I work at my own pace and my own speed.
Q: Aside from managing contracts, what are some of your job duties as a contract administrator?
I work with the municipal authority board, attending meetings and doing the minutes for the meetings. I also perform community outreach. I also recently expanded my role to include DBE: Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, which involves helping socially and economically disadvantaged businesses compete for federally funded transportation contracts. My role is constantly changing and growing.
Q: As your contract administrator job grows and changes, do you feel your paralegal background has prepared you for the new changes that come your way?
A: Yes, I feel like my background and education allow me to feel comfortable enough to take on new challenges. It also makes me confident enough that even if I don’t know something I know I can learn it. I will often research a new role to learn more about the laws governing it.
Q: Do you feel that moving out of the traditional paralegal role into a contract administrator position has opened up more professional opportunities for you?
A: Yes, I feel like with the experience gained through this position that I could slide easily into any number of business development positions. Getting a degree in paralegal studies doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to stay within the narrow definition of a paralegal. With this job, I have already been approached to transfer to the capital projects and planning departments.
Q: Do you ever see yourself going back into the traditional paralegal role?
I don’t because it’s been nice not keeping track of my day and being in charge of my time and how my day goes. As long as I get my work done, it doesn’t matter what order I do it in. It also pays more than the paralegal position I had in litigation.
I started this job at $48,000 and, within a couple years, I am already making $54,000. My first job in litigation paid $36,000. When I left there to take another litigation paralegal job, I started at the same pay. Although I worked with that company for more than five years, I was still making under $40,000 when I left there.