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The Art of Delegation for Lawyers: An Essential Skill to Lighten Your Load

By Irene Leonard, Lawyer Coach

If you do not find delegating easy, the art of effective delegation may be one of the most important skills you learn and master to lighten your load and reduce feelings of being overwhelmed.

Good delegation skills allow lawyers to perform more effectively and accomplish more. Effective delegation is key to helping you realize your full billable rate, as well as spend less time on non-essential, boring tasks or tasks that you are not comfortable doing.

Why Delegate?


Tips for Effective Legal Delegation

  1. When making plans for projects (no matter how small) include delegating as part of your plan. Remember to ask yourself, "What's the best use of my time?"

  2. Delegate as early as possible. Delegate as soon as you receive new work. This will help you avoid putting any undue pressure on the delegatee or yourself.

  3. Choose the right person to do the work. He or she needs to be capable and competent for the assignment you delegate. Accept responsibility for any failure in choosing the right person. If they don't perform as you want them to, ask yourself, "What did I do wrong?" Learn from any mistakes you make so you can improve on your choice the next time.

  4. Keep the long term in mind; include time to train delegatees to your satisfaction. This means accepting the short-term cost of the additional time necessary to train someone.

  5. Choose work that can be safely delegated.

  6. Assign the work in such a way that your expectations can be met. Consider giving instructions in writing. Written instructions will help with tracking the assignment as well.

  7. Communicate your requirements clearly with understandable expectations. Your instructions should include a description of your desired end product, time estimates and the context of the matter to help the delegatee exhibit initiative in carrying out the assignment. Ask questions such as, "What are your first steps?" or "How do you plan to proceed?" to get a sense of whether or not your instructions were clear.

  8. Be clear about your deadlines. Your deadlines may be different from the client's. Rather than, "Can I have this next week?" say, "Can I have this by Monday at 1 p.m., please?"

  9. Provide the necessary resources including references, precedents, examples and other people that can help them get the job done the way you want it. The idea is to point the delegatee in the right direction, to help minimize any false starts.

  10. Establish check-in dates so you can monitor progress. Don't micromanage, but do set up dates to give you time to check the progress and quality of the assignment. Especially when working with someone you have not worked with before, you do not want to find out at the end when there is no time left that he or she has been going down a completely wrong path. Do not confuse delegation with abdication. Without check-ins, you have abdicated, and that can lead to unsatisfactory results.

  11. Have systems in place for reviewing and keeping track of assignments you have delegated.

  12. If you want to bill the delegatee's time, make sure you give him or her work you will ultimately be willing to bill the client for.

  13. Give positive and corrective feedback. Focus on what can be done to make the work better, rather than on what might be wrong.

  14. Return work that you are reviewing to the delegatee quickly to keep the work flowing. In addition, it is also easier to remember what is going on when each of you is working on the assignment in a timely manner.

  15. Don't take the work back once you have delegated it; help the delegatee get through any difficulties or challenges by coaching him or her rather than doing it yourself.

  16. Praise or acknowledge the delegatee for doing the work well. Praise is important for continued improvement of your delegatee's skills.

  17. Let go of unreasonable expectations; of course, delegatees won't do it your way, they're not you.

  18. Practice; with practice you can develop and master the art of delegation.

What to Delegate?

If someone else can do something, delegate it so you can spend your time billing your full rate, doing something that only you can do. You especially need to delegate when it is in the best interests of your client.

If you have something you will procrastinate on or don't know how to do, delegate it.

Delegate all administrative tasks to an administrative support person; that will definitely lighten your load. When you have an assistant or associate, you should keep them busy first. Then you can spend time generating further business.

Delegation Excuses

Master the art of delegation and you will eliminate the following excuses from your repertoire:

Learn how to overcome these objections in order to reduce your workload and make it more manageable. Taking responsibility for your part in being a good delegator will help you overcome the excuses.

Make the decision to master the art of legal delegation, then be disciplined and determined to master the skills by using them. You will lighten your load, improve your productivity and profitability, and — most importantly — improve your state of mind.