Effective delegation for lawyers involves more than just flinging files at people! Honestly, seeing lawyers delegate sometimes is enough to make me want to just start banging my head against the wall.
But I don’t – because that sounds like it would hurt.
Instead I write a semi-ranty article describing the experience in detail.
Like this one.
The 1 Do of Effective Delegation – Be Clear
It’s that simple, folks.
Be clear about the:
- task – exactly what is it that you want the person to do
- time – how long should it take
- deadline – when do you need it by (allowing time for you to review)
- resources – what, and who, can they use to make their life easier
- context – who is the client (if any) and what do they prefer
- product – what do you expect to have handed to you
Now that might sound like 6 things, but it’s really one. Just be clear, gosh darn it.
27 Don’ts of Effective Delegation for Lawyers
I admit it – 27 was an arbitrary number that I picked when I wrote the headline, because it sounded like a big list and I was confident I could come up with that many dumb things to do when delegating.
Let’s see if I was right.
If you’re delegating to a law clerk, a junior lawyer or any human being, then don’t:
- cry wolf – if it’s urgent, that’s fine – if it’s not, don’t say it is
- assume knowledge – if you have some legal guidance, then share it – it will save everyone time and money
- be vague – tell them what you want them to deliver
- delegate early – don’t give someone a task to do if you’re 99% sure it’s going to change 6 times before they finish
- disappear – there’s a good chance they will need to ask you a question to complete the task, and if you’re out to lunch for 6 hours having demanded something by the end of the day – that’s not cool
- hide information – trust them with what you know
- rush – take your time to ensure you’ve given them what they need
- brush – giving someone half a task and then getting distracted is pretty rude (and unlikely to deliver you a good outcome)
- be unapproachable – if you want people to do delegated work well, then you need to be accessible – if your door is shut and, when opened, shows a scowling angry individual who hates interruptions, then you should look forward to working by yourself
- patronise – know your staff well enough to know what you have to tell them, and what you don’t
- micro-manage – if you’ve given someone a job and been clear about it, let them do it
- change the goal-posts (unless you really have to) – it’s true that sometimes the rules get changed – but don’t make it your fault by giving someone crummy directions in the first place
- be secretive – if a memo, thought or letter has already been written on the topic – tell them, and explain why you want to rethink it
- delegate twice – are you getting two people to do the same thing. Seriously?
- impose crazy time limits – telling someone to write a treatise on international relations between North Korea and the USA (including flattering photos of Dennis Rodman) in 90 minutes is just inviting people to lie on their timesheets about how long something took
- sit on things – if you decide to tell someone that something is urgent, and they skip breakfast, lunch, cuddles with loved ones and toilet breaks to get it done in your crazy timeframe – and then you leave it sitting on the floor of your office for 2 days un-reviewed, then you are a jerk.
- leave delegation too long (connected with the previous) – if you get work and need to (or should) delegate it then do it quickly – otherwise you’re the one who is responsible for client expectations, not your poor junior lawyer who got the job 6 days after you knew about it
- engage in hypocrisy – your people are trying to deliver what they think you want, so it’s not great if you have double standards
- add assumptions – you know what they say about assumptions, right? Well if you expect something, then say it out aloud – mentioning it after the fact as something that your delegate “should” have done, if you didn’t ask them too, is more a reflection on you than it is on them
- fail to engage – so many times I see young lawyers or clerks who just need an attentive 3 minute discussion to deliver a top notch product – but without it, they are lost. Don’t be the person who isn’t paying attention
- miss the opportunity – all delegation is a teaching and a learning opportunity – if you delegate well, and get a task but think it could have been better, then take that opportunity to teach your staff – help them rise to the next challenge, and you’ll all benefit in the long run
- get angry – so often I see people get annoyed when “their” task isn’t done “right” – guess what, genius – that’s often more your fault than it is theirs, because you hadn’t rest this list of things or didn’t care what they said anyway
- delegate in ignorance – if you don’t know what the task is, then figure that out first
- be selfish – if you’re delegating, then the chances are that somebody else in your team is doing the same thing – your delegate might be confused about which matter takes priority, so perhaps you could clear that up without them having to have embarrassing or confronting discussions?
- be impatient – guess what? If you distract your delegate 47 times in the next hour about the task, then it’s going to take longer…
- pass the buck – just because you’re delegating, doesn’t mean you have no obligations of your own – the buck stops with you, my friend
- stop delegating – I know that not all delegations go well, and sometimes it’s because someone stuffed up. That’s going to happen. But take it as a learning experience – what could you do better, and what do they still need to learn. Don’t become a martyr and stop delegating completely, because “nobody else knows what they are doing”. It’s an effective form of leverage and it’s your obligation to do it well – so keep going!
Well, There you Go – I made it to 27
Of course, some of these bad styles of delegation that lawyers engage in are variations on a theme – but I’ve seen them all, and many more.
What about you – what’s bad delegation look like to you, and how do you avoid it in your own practice? Let me know in the comments…