Delegation: It’s Not Just So You Can Go Home Early…

Delegating is one of the hardest leadership skills to master.

It involves a measure of trust in your subordinates, as well as a lack of control. To compound this problem, managing a law firm—though ultimately a business—is rife with personal risk.

Cases are predominately about people. Thus, what’s a stake is also personal.

This is why it’s so hard to let go. Law firm managers and senior attorneys “want to get it right” the first time, and it’s with hesitance that they cede work to others. Unfortunately, this makes for poor business practice.

When a professional refuses to delegate, it often leads to late nights, procrastination, missed deadlines, lack of full attention to the task at hand, and other inefficiencies. This is why great leaders understand how to delegate work and who to delegate it to.

Not to mention, as a manager, you can’t be everywhere all the time.

“Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off,” said Jeffrey Pfeffer to Amy Gallo of the Harvard Business Review Blog. Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and author of What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management.

A 2007 study on time management found that nearly half of the 332 companies surveyed worried about their employees’ ability to delegate. So, what did these companies do about their concerns?

Nothing. Only 28 percent of the surveyed companies offered training on the topic, according to the HBR Blog. Luckily, there’s still time for your firm.

There are two tiers of delegation within a law firm: Delegating to legal staff and delegating to associates.

Delegation To Legal Staff

Don’t overlook legal assistants and paralegals in the office.

Frequently legal staff are as equipped as junior attorneys to proofread briefs, research legal forms, or conduct other more menial tasks. And, that’s exactly what your support staff is there for.

“Most people will tell you they are too busy to delegate—that it’s more efficient for them to just do it themselves,” said Carol Walker to Gallo for the HBR Blog. Gallo is the president of Prepared to Lead, a consulting firm that focuses on developing young leaders.

Not true. In fact, legal assistants have a profound expertise. Furthermore, legal staff have another secret weapon and value add to your firm: lower billables.

As a result, your legal staff can devote the time and energy necessary to complete a job more comprehensively, meticulously, and quickly than their busy junior associate counterpart.

Why ask an associate to perform these duties (i.e., pleadings, research, or deposition summaries) when your legal assistant is more than capable to do the same, for less?

If you don’t yet know the breadth of skill or ability of your assistant, go ahead and test it now. Task him or her a deposition to summarize, PowerPoint to format, or trial prep work to complete that you’d typically assign a first-year. You’ll be glad you did when there’s a crunch time in the future.

Delegating To Associates

As mentioned above, law firms should teach and practice the art of delegation in order to maintain a cost-effective billing structure for its clients.

Typically, lower-paid associates take on the bulk of casework so that higher-paid associates—more senior ones—spend less time on busy work and more productive time approving, modifying, or signing off on the final product. Think about where partner time is best spent.

If your leaders are not delegating work properly, it’s likely that you’re overbilling clients.

As a law firm manager, keep track of each associate’s assignments. Ensure that the responsibilities delegated to them are commensurate with their position at the firm and their career path.

Monitor the hours of your more senior associates. When necessary, force them to delegate more high-profile work to junior associates—so young attorneys gain experience and more practiced attorneys learn to trust the team.

Like word processing, writing, or the practice of law, delegation is a skill to be acquired.

So, sign up your managers today for a course on time management (like this one by C4CM) to ensure your firm boosts its efficiency, regains control of its productive time, conquers clutter, and ends procrastination caused by poor delegation.

-WB

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