This article by Gerry Riskin appeared in the Summer 2007 issue of LAWPRO Magazine. All past issues of LAWPRO Magazine can be found at www.lawpro.ca/magazinearchives
The excuses lawyers offer for not delegating work are many:
- “I’ll lose control.”
- “The delegatee or student might botch it up.”
- “I need to maintain a level of billable hours.”
- “It takes too much time. I can do it myself just as quickly.”
- “I like to keep my hand in by doing some of these kinds of files myself.”
- “It’s my client and if I delegate the work I won’t have the answers to questions I may be asked.”
The fact is, these objections rarely stand up to scrutiny: Done right, delegation is a win-win-win-win.
Delegating work, especially routine work, frees up the lawyer (delegator) to tackle more difficult and demanding work. It also better serves the interests of the firm and the client if these tasks are delegated to a lower level of competence in the firm. The delegatee (associate towhomthework is delegated) develops new skills and insights. The client receives quality work at an affordable price. Often, clients are also impressed by the higher level of motivation, enthusiasm, intensity and drive that an associate brings to the file compared to a more senior lawyer who considers the matter routine.
So the benefits of delegating – the art of getting things done through other people – are unassailable. Yet the process of delegating can be difficult for many lawyers.
Effective delegation begins with an understanding of your objective: Your goal is to maintain control and responsibility while motivating others to help you by performing at their peak performance.
First, you need to fully understand the nature of the client’s work, and then determine what routine matters can be delegated to a junior, or what specific issues are best assigned to someone with more expertise than you have in that area.
You also need to be prepared for resistance from the delegatee. “I’ve never done anything like this,” might be one excuse offered. Or “I’mgoing flat out right now and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” or “I have to give priority to a file for one of the other partners.”
Overcoming this resistance is not as difficult as it appears. Sometimes resistance is most easily neutralized by simply asking questions which can be followed by some basic negotiating. One way to address the first situation might be to ask for more information on what is being done for whom and by when, which may lead to a simple solution of adjusting the timing or talking with the other partner. Understanding the art of delegating can overcome all the concerns and resistance identified above.
Confusion and client problems may result if a lawyer suddenly begins delegating responsibilities to untrained juniors. A gradual approach to delegating is best. Each lawyer should identify client work that can be delegated. The effectiveness of delegation can be enhanced through training and practice.
Being effective at delegating client work requires trust in the delegatee. That trust can be enhanced through proper supervision and coaching. Many abdicate instead of delegate, and then complain about the inadequate result.
Based on research that Edge International has conducted over many years, we have determined that there are six key steps to effectively delegating work on a file: (more…)