To be effective as a lawyer, it’s just as important to know what tasks you should delegate as it is to focus on the critical ones. But how can you trust the work will get done right if you’re not doing it yourself? And how do you know what you should and shouldn’t be taking care of personally?
Every lawyer struggles with the answers to these questions, especially as they’re starting out, but fine-tuning the art of delegation is essential for growth and career development.
Delegating is Essential
Too often, delegating is thought of as giving work away and lawyers can feel like they’re not putting in enough effort by having someone else handle it. But the reality is there are only so many hours in a day. No one, no matter how great of a lawyer they are, can possibly do everything that needs to be done to run a successful law firm and still have time to sleep.
Instead, try to think of the time it takes to train someone to do a task as an investment in the success of the firm. Yes, it’s likely going to require some hands-on explaining to start, but in a couple of weeks or months, you’ll instead have that time to put toward other tasks. Most importantly, you can put that time to use on billable items.
How to Choose What to Delegate
Complicated ethics requirements combined with a desire to produce quality work can make it difficult for lawyers to know what they should be delegating. One of the key ways to decide if you should delegate something is by first looking at whether it’s billable or not. By delegating non-billable tasks, you can then focus on billable hours during your workday.
To figure out what tasks you can delegate, make a list of your responsibilities. Then evaluate them to see if they’re repetitive, administrative or can be easily taught. Those types of tasks are perfect for delegating. By passing these along to a capable staff member, you can focus on the complex, high-level tasks you can bill for.
Here are some examples of what’s acceptable to delegate:
- Client interviews
- Information gathering
- Managing deadlines
- Overall case management
- Drafting of legal documents
- Trial prep
- Record requests
It’s important to keep in mind the ethics requirements for lawyers. For example, just because someone is handling your billing or accounting, you should still take steps to prevent fraud and your clients. No matter what you are having someone else work on, you should always be aware of what’s happening, especially if it’s relating to financial pieces, critical legal work or court deadlines. To stay on the right side of the bar association, become familiar with Rule 5.1 and Rule 5.3, which describe the responsibilities of a supervising attorney.
If you’re going to delegate something, do it in a way that ensures you’ll be happy with the final work product. In the beginning this may take some time, but as those you work with become familiar with what you expect, they’ll need less and less information. To start, give whoever you’re delegating to everything they need to complete the job well, including:
- What the overall task or project is
- Where they can find resources, past notes or documentation to help them
- Why you’re giving it to them and why it’s important
- Any deadlines they should be aware of
- What final product you expect
You should always provide feedback, especially during the first few times of having someone else do the work. This gives you an opportunity to make corrections if needed and is also a way to provide valuable input that can make them better at their job. It ends up being a win-win situation – the employee feels you’re invested in their growth and success and you wind up with a reliable person to handle the task.
A large part of delegating effectively is giving the person the information they need to do the job correctly and letting go of feeling like someone else can handle the task. This can take some practice, but by feeling comfortable in letting others handle certain jobs you’ll be able to devote more time to billable hours. As a result, you’ll increase productivity, reduce stress and grow your profits all at the same time.