The Why? And How? Of Delegation
By Liza Vasquez ICF CMC and Jeffrey F. Silber CPA MBA CMC
Certified Master Business and Life Coaches
Creating the 36-Hour Day
The biggest excuse many of our clients have for not doing the individual marketing and promotional activities they have learned from us, is that they are just too busy in the office dealing with crises and urgent matters. Therefore, this month we will discuss how to create more hours in the day.
In our opinion, this lack of time is a symptom of not using your time wisely ors not leveraging the people around you, in other words, not Delegating sufficiently. Why is it that some lawyers not only have enough time to be highly effective at their legal work but also they find time to go out prospecting for new clients and enjoy a full and rich personal life?
Before we delve into the specifics of good and effective Delegation, let’s go back to basics and see how you are spending your time. In his ground-breaking book, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the author, Steven Covey, talked about his Time Management Matrix, shown below.
The world is divided around activities that are Urgent or Not Urgent and activities that are Important or Not-Important. This creates the matrix shown above of four quadrants. Inasmuch as we want to discuss Delegation, we must first spend some time explaining the above because we will refer back to this matrix later.
Quadrant I (Q1) – Urgent and Important. These are generally crises, important matters that must be attended to now. When you are dealing with constant crises, you have no time to plan and you are being reactive to the world around you. Any work or requests that come from clients are always important as far as you are concerned. Full stop. But are they always Urgent? Sometimes, you simply don’t ask the client for when they need this and you confuse Important with Urgent. Not every client matter or matter is Urgent. Next, many crises can be avoided by educating your clients (as politely as possible) to make you aware of all matters that will require your attention as soon as possible instead of waiting for the last minute. In this way, you can do the work a bit more leisurely. Other crises are caused by you when you have plenty of advanced notice, but because you are already dealing with various other crises, you leave these matters to the last minute and then it becomes a crisis.
Q1 activities will never entirely disappear because genuine important emergencies do arise from time to time. The idea is to spend less of your time dealing with client matters on an Urgent basis.
Quadrant II (Q2) – Not Urgent but Important. This is where you want to live. You want to deal in a calm manner with all the important things in your life, both professionally and personally. The key to true effectiveness and to have a balanced life by dealing with all your Important matters on a non-urgent basis.
Quadrant III (Q3) – Urgent but Not Important. This is where you must learn to say “No” to activities that eat up your time, such as text and email messages and the requests for your time that are the Important and Urgent matters of other people, but which are not your priorities. Q3 is where you give away your precious time. Remember, if it was Important for you, it would be a Q1 or a Q2 activity.
Quadrant IV (Q4) – Not Urgent and Not Important. This is where you find all the activities where you are wasting your time: surfing the net, internet chats, excessive TV watching. The time you are wasting here, you need to add to Q2 and take care of your Important matters in a calm leisurely manner.
Launching into Delegation
This Time Management review was necessary because if you are living in the constant crises of Q1, you cannot possibly find the time to Delegate and your life becomes a vicious circle in which you believe and act as if you are the only one who has the experience and technical ability to attend to these matters on short notice. You have no control over your time, no time to plan and certainly no time to get out of the office in pursuit of new clients.
Therefore, before you can begin the process of Delegation, you need to reduce your Q1 activities and move them into Q2.
But I Can Do the Work More Quickly and More Efficiently Myself
That is true, but whatever level you are in the law firm, you are not being paid to function at the level beneath you. If you are a partner, you should not be working as if you were the most effective and most productive senior associate. If you are a senior associate, you should not do the work of a junior lawyer or even of a law clerk below you. You were at that level once, why stay there? And that is for starters.
Delegation takes more time in the beginning than if you do it yourself. Agreed. However, it pays dividends in the future once you learn how to do it effectively and once your team becomes more knowledgeable, more experienced and more reliable. If you do the work yourself now, you are doomed to do it forever. And that is why you have no time to do your promotional activities and no time to have a fulfilling personal life.
Through effective Delegation, you can achieve better results all around despite the limitations and pressures on your own time.
Let us dispel a myth about what you can delegate: You can delegate everything except responsibility for the work.
Reasons to Delegate
1. Profitability – Undoubtedly the people who work for you have a lower hourly billing rate than you do. It is obvious that by using their time instead of your own limited expensive time, that it will lead to each engagement being more profitable.
2. Impact on your life – It used to be that once a lawyer left the office at the end of the day, other than doing some reading at home, his/her work was left behind until the next morning. Smart phones, laptop computers and so on have enabled us to destroy the hope of any personal or family time by allowing us to work nearly around the clock. If you operate in this way, there will never be enough hours in the day for you to do everything yourself. By letting your work dominate your time, when will you keep the relationship with your life-mate alive and vibrant? Your children will be young only once, when will you enjoy them? When will you pursue your hobbies or stay in contact with your friends? Remember, no lawyer upon retiring from the profession has ever said “Why didn’t I spend more time in the office? Why didn’t I see more clients?”
3. Synergy – You may be convinced that no one knows the subject matter better than you. Perhaps this is true. We do not know if the lawyers who work for you are geniuses or not, but younger people bring a fresh point of view. Some of the people who work for you may, in fact, be the great legal minds of the future. They may improve your work output by adding additional eyes, additional minds and occasionally insightful new ideas to the process.
4. Teamwork and Your Obligation to the Future– You reached your current position because other lawyers in your history were willing to share their knowledge and experience with you. You owe it to the law firm and to the profession to do the same and pass along this knowledge. Furthermore, you will be the direct beneficiary of their learning because the more they learn, the more you can rely on them, which means less work for you. The morale of the law firm improves at every level when the partners or senior associates show their subordinates that they are valued and that they trust them with this work. This can have the effect of reducing turnover among the staff.
We hope you are convinced that Delegation is needed.
How Do I Create Effective Delegation?
1. Clear and Specific Instructions – We once had a senior associate come to a coaching session furious, very agitated. I ask what was upsetting him so much. He told me he took a junior associate to a meeting with a client. On leaving the meeting, he told the young associate to prepare a deal memo. I asked if the junior associate did that? “Yes, she did but she wrote five pages and charged twenty hours.” I asked, “Was that what you wanted?” The irate senior associate said, “No I wanted one page of bullet points.” Inasmuch as this was a coaching session I asked, “Did you tell her that’s what you wanted?” I continued to press him. “How was this junior associate supposed to know if you didn’t tell her? After all, she is a junior without your experience. In the absence of more specific instructions, she probably wanted to impress you and so she did what she thought best.” I told the agitated senior associate in front of me, “You should be angry with yourself because the fault lies with you in not giving proper, explicit, clear r instructions.”
This brings us to the point of giving clear and specific instructions when assigning work to a subordinate. Start by telling your team member that you are giving them this work because it is important, why you selected her/him for this assignment and that you trust her/him to do a good job to maximum of their ability. That starts the project off on the right foot.
Now you are ready to explain the work you are assigning. Think carefully, are you setting up your subordinate for success with this work or are you sub-conscientiously sabotaging him/her so that you can you satisfy your own ego by telling yourself, “You see, these young people know nothing, that’s why I have to do it myself!”
Inasmuch as everyone has a mobile telephone nowadays, our recommendation is that you have your subordinate record your instructions instead of taking notes. When someone takes notes, they invariably miss the next point that was said. Go into as much excruciating detail as necessary so that your subordinate will be able to complete the assignment successfully. Leave nothing out, not the smallest detail. Of course, the amount of details you offer in your instructions will depend on the experience of that particular subordinate and how well she/he has completed prior projects for you.
Tell your team member to listen to your instructions two or three times a day to be sure they are following your instructions perfectly. And, occasionally, a subordinate did not do something that the partner or senior associated only thought he/she told the subordinate to do. By having the instructions recorded, the subordinate can politely remind the leader that, in fact, that the upsetting omission was not part of the original instructions.
And lastly, explain your expectation of the time it will take to complete this work.
2. Scheduling Your Next Meeting, or Hasta Luego! – As to the last point, your final piece of instruction, should be to agree with your team member on the exact time and day you expect him/her to return with the completed work. We must assume at this point that your instructions were clear and adequate. If so, tell your teammate to do whatever it takes to answer any questions they might have but NOT to come to you for answers. We are strongly opposed to the famous “open-door” policy of allowing juniors continuous access to you. Most of the time, you cripple the junior lawyers by letting them come to you with questions they could have found the answers to without your help. You would be letting them drag you into Q3, Urgent (for them) and Not important (for you). They will grow more, if they have to dig up the answers themselves.
Besides, if they are coming to you with questions, it means that your instructions were not complete and it is your fault for not programming them for success in completing this piece of work. Any time you blame an external factor, it means you are not taking your own responsibility for the situation.
Now we must return to the Time Management Matrix. The key to effective Delegation is to NOT live in Q1, crises, Urgent and Important. Of course not! The entire process we have just described will sink faster than the Titanic if you have a very near-term deadline.
In that case, you will abandon the Delegation process, thank your team member and take the work back to finish it yourself in the short time remaining. That is not a good outcome and that is why you need to reduce your crises as much as possible. Good Delegation lives in Q2, Important but not Urgent. It is the one in a million subordinate who will read the final documents that you have written. If they are not intimately involved in the final documents, they will never learn and never grow.
3. Review and Supervision – The objective is for you to never take work back from your subordinates to finish, only as little absolutely necessary as dictated by a crisis.
The first time you review the work of a specific team member, you will have to go over his/her work in a very detailed way. Hopefully, in the future, as your subordinates grow in knowledge and experience, the detailed level to which you have to review their work will decrease.
When you review their work, do not tell the associate what is wrong and how to fix it. Starting with a compliment will go a long way to building trust and a strong team. “Nice work. I don’t think I could have done this well when I was your level.” Then proceed to do your review by asking questions. Of course, you can ask leading questions that gets your subordinate to the end you have in mind. “Over here, did you look in the Piedmont Petroleum file for a good example of this type of clause? Over here, why was your thinking process when you drafted this clause” and so on.
After you review your team member’s work, set a new date for your second review. Repeat this process as often as necessary until the subordinate produces the final document. Again, shower the associate with praise on such good work and give lots of positive feedback. If you dwell on what they did wrong, you will only discourage them. In this day and age, sensitive millennials who think they are special, will feel defeated.
Let me repeat that you can only do this if you have organized yourself such that you are not living in a crisis mode, Q1.
This is how to Delegate and create more time for yourself.
You are now ready to raise your righthand and repeat: “I promise to never take work back from a subordinate to finish.” If you find you are not able to live up to this pledge, then examine your own behavior and how you are using your time. If you have to take work back to finish, you have jumped back into Q1, the crisis mode. Dissect what happened that turned this into a crisis and try to avoid those circumstances in the future.
What will happen is that over time, your subordinate will become a stronger, more experiences lawyer. Your review of their work will take less and less of your time and the quality of their work will improve. You will be building a strong support team.
4. Supervision and Your Responsibility – Never forget that you are ultimately the one who bears the responsibly for the final work product. You must know your staff and what they are capable of turning out. As mentioned, this will determine the level of your supervision and the depth of your review. Nonetheless, you can never evade any criticism of the work or any errors by saying I didn’t do it. A General cannot blame a Private if a battle plan fails. Responsibility rests on the General’s shoulders just as it does on yours.
5. Self-Image - Being a highly competent technical lawyer is at most 75% of what it takes to be a successful lawyer. Perhaps until now, all your praise has been for the high quality of your legal work and therein lies your comfortable self-image as a technically competent lawyer. But you do not have to do all the work yourself to be a great lawyer. You have to make the time to get out of the office and hunt for those new clients: to do your marketing activities. By devoting only 25% of your time to your non-legal work, you can become an industry Thought Leader able to reflect on the higher issues of your cases and practice area. You will become a respected Rainmaker.
· You can delegate everything except responsibility for the work.
· Is moving out of your comfort zone to create greater efficiency and more effective use of your time.
· Is mentoring and teaching your team based on your own skills, experience, leadership and knowledge.
· Is allowing every member of your team to contribute to the maximum of their ability and thereby demonstrating when they are ready for more responsibility.
· Is empowering your team and as a result, you are developing trust and fostering a sense of the team, an esprit de corps.
· Is a way to improve how you set your priorities.
· Is NOT a perfect system
· Is NOT easy to implement
· Is NOT an exact method
· Is NOT a one-time event
o It needs to be repeated without end and continuously refined
· Will NOT deprive you what you like best, being a lawyer.
At the start of this article, we promised to create more hours in the day for you. Unfortunately, we all have the same 24 hours, from the richest to poorest person, from the busiest corporate executive to the hippie sleeping peacefully on a beach. But through Delegation you can create more time for your priorities by getting other people to do some of the work that has been occupying your time. Isn’t that the equivalent of having more hours in the day?
When you implement a meaningful system of Delegation, you will find yourself living in Q2, Important but Not Urgent, and you will become more productive and have a more fulfilling personal life.
After receiving this article, one of our readers, a senior labor lawyer in Spain, sent us this comment: Dear Liza and Jeff, Thanks for your article. As always, very useful and interesting. I completely agree with your delegation theories. Taking it one step further, effective delegation can also make time for personal or side goals, trips, family, exercise, healthy eating. It involves not just better work environment and client development, but also personal relationships. Thank you, Jorge, for that insightful feedback.
Coaching and Support in 2023 and Beyond
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