Effective delegation is an essential skill, for the efficient running of legal matters, for managing the firm and for developing your team. Follow the steps below to allowing yourself to get more done, while giving employees new opportunities and boosting their job satisfaction, writes consultant Catherine Gasparini. (Updated 26 July 2021)
Delegating activities to more junior lawyers gives them the chance to develop their skills, while at the same time making the best use of more senior lawyers' time and ensuring that clients aren't being billed for work at inappropriate fee rates. In other areas, such as marketing, delegation means being prepared to stand aside and let those with the appropriate training and experience do what they are good at.
- Identify your priority work – where your time is best spent. This may well be managing clients and client acquisition, and leading the firm, rather than routine legal practice.
- Review each task on your to-do list. Consider the objectives and deadline and whether the task is part of a broader role or set of recurring tasks you wish to delegate.
- Aim to delegate a complete activity, which will motivate an employee and produce job satisfaction when successfully executed. Are there any matters, or clients, that you should hand over completely? Can the partnership delegate responsibility for IT to a smaller group or an individual?
- Assess the skills, knowledge, resources, influence and any other requirements for the task. What elements of a matter are complex, risky or important enough to require your personal attention?
- Consider the strengths, weaknesses, aspirations and existing workload of employees – choose the employee to delegate to.
- Identify the benefits for that employee – for example, learning new skills, added variety in the workload or a step in career progression.
- Assess the drawbacks of delegating the task – or example, the time you will need to commit to handing over and supporting the task, and the risk of failure.
- Sell the benefits of undertaking the task to the employee, explain the objectives and specify your requirements, and address any concerns.
- Agree the extent to which you will be involved, and clarify where responsibility lies. For legal matters, will more junior lawyers communicate directly with the client? Note that you retain ultimate responsibility.
- Agree the schedule and deadlines. Be clear as to whether a task is urgent, important or routine – and the timescales that apply to each.
- Clarify to what extent, if any, you will need to review work in progress or be involved in decisions. Do you need to review drafts or final documentation before it reaches the client? Who will make the final decision on a new computer system or marketing campaign?
- Provide any support and resources the employee requires, such as training or access to information.
- Inform other relevant employees; explain that the employee will be acting on your authority and solicit their cooperation.
- Liaise as the task progresses; encourage the employee to approach you with any problems, but avoid unwanted interference.
- Review the completed task; assess what the employee has learnt, and any weaknesses which have been highlighted and should be tackled.
- Review how effective your delegation skills were; identify and improve your contribution to any problems (eg poor communication or support).
"Delegation is not an abdication of responsibility, you are still ultimately accountable for delegated work. But particularly in areas such as marketing, finance and technology, giving support staff the freedom to use their own judgement generally leads to better outcomes" Stephen Ward, Clerksroom
"Delegation is an important tool in the development of staff. But be sure to give clear instructions, make sure they understand what you expect to happen and the timescales involved. Be prepared for them to get things wrong – that’s how they learn" Alex Holt, The Cashroom