Shedding Your Excess Workload
Whether your motivation is altruism or greed,
effective delegation is a must if you want to expand your firm, boost your
income and preserve whatís left of your sanity
of my favorite clients is a very successful real estate attorney whom Ė in the
interest of client retention and, perhaps, litigation avoidance Ė I will call
"Skip." He and four associate attorneys comprise the real estate department at
the law firm of Halt & Lame.
week, as I made my way down the quiet hallway toward Skipís office for our
monthly consultation, I passed the doors of his four subordinates. Busby was
balancing his checkbook on an otherwise barren desktop. Lipschutz seemed to be
reading something, but when he saw me walk by he quickly slid it into his center
drawer. Toole was making sure that his business card holder was properly
positioned. Sloan was asleep.
calm of the hallway gradually gave way to the commotion from Skipís office,
rising to a din as I neared the end of the hall. Standing in his doorway, I
thought I had wandered onto the trading floor at a commodities exchange.
was standing at his cluttered desk, his telephone receiver cradled on his
shoulder while he rummaged through a thick file. He yelled something at his
paralegal, who was on her hands and knees in the corner, trying to keep a
ten-page blueprint from rolling up while she scribbled notes on a legal pad.
Skipís computer beeped: "SOL - Can you meet with Savage
Crushing and me today at 1:30? - BFD."
behind me, Skip's secretary announced that Mr. Yee was still waiting in the
lobby, she was taking an early lunch and, oh, by the way, the people from Blue
Sky Development were on their way over to review the purchase agreement.
Suddenly, all was still. Skipís jaw dropped. The receiver fell to the floor. The
only other sound in the room was the slow staccato of his paralegal tapping her
forehead against a table leg.
Sky!" he gasped. His eyes shot down at the paralegal. "But thatís not due until
next Tuesday, is it? I mean, it is next Tuesday Ė right?"
guess not," she murmured.
silence. He looked up, for the first time noting my arrival. His taut facial
expression instantly took on a tranquil quality, and his frenzied pallor was
replaced by the warm glow of human kindness.
"Hello, Mr. Hulcher. Are we meeting today?"
... we donít have to," I replied, sensing that I may have come at a bad time.
no, letís meet. It wouldnít be fair to inconvenience you and disrupt your
schedule. Deirdre, could you excuse us?"
cleared several bushels of files from his conference table and then excused
himself to get me a beverage.
his return, he lamented, "I havenít done any marketing this month; I canít find
the time. I canít even take care of the clients I have, much less bring in any
new ones. Lately Iíve even been turning work away."
"Listen, Skip," I said, "what about those guys down the hall? Why donít you give
them some of this stuff?"
shook his head. "Thatís no good. Iíve tried, but hereís the problem. I gave
Toole a file last week, but he lost it, so I ended up doing it myself. I was
going to give something to Busby yesterday, but I told the client a month ago
that Iíd have it ready today, and Busby doesn't know what 'today' means.
Lipschutz could probably have gone to P&Z for me yesterday, but I really get a
kick out of those meetings, so I went. And I could have let Sloan take care of
this deed of trust for Rickets Construction, but old man Rickets wanted me to
handle it personally. So here I am."
The Price of
busy, successful attorneys who possess Ė and squander Ė rainmaking potential,
Skip has a common problem: failure to effectively delegate.
Non-delegation, whether intentional or incidental, carries a hefty price tag:
If you donít delegate well, you find yourself
bogged down with "busy work" that someone Ė anyone Ė else could do.
Associates who could and should handle lesser files are left with light
workloads, causing partners to question their worth and to revisit the
firmís recruiting commitments.
The partner-associate mentoring relationship thatís essential to firm and
individual growth goes wanting.
You have little time to do things that only you can do (develop new clients
and referral relationships, cultivate closer ties with existing clients,
cross-sell, spend time with your family, etc.).
Thus, client relations Ė not to mention domestic relations Ė suffer, and
companies and individuals who might have become your clients wind up writing
big checks to some other lawyer.
And you and the firm lose money.
The Causes of Poor Delegation
Inadequate delegation is usually due either to poor planning or to fear.
Planning-related causes include:
Procrastination. If you wait until the day before a deadline to begin
working on a matter, itís too late to delegate. You almost have to do it
yourself, because you donít have time to assign it to someone else, let them
take longer to finish it than you would, review their work, and send it back to
them to fix.
Ignoring opportunity cost. Itís true that giving a job to someone who might foul
it up may inflict a loss of time and perhaps money. But, considering the higher
value of your time than your associatesí, doing everything yourself is even
Time mismanagement. Youíve probably said this to yourself a few
times: "This is a half-hour project, and itíll take longer than that for me to
explain it to someone else and then wait for them to do it. So Iíll just do it
myself." Thatís a sensible approach, right? Think again. You probably donít have
just one half-hour job; more likely, you have a ton of them that add up to a
major commitment of time and energy. But if you bundle up all of your little
projects and assign them to someone else, you might open up a huge block of time
for more pressing, satisfying and profitable work.
Ego. Many well meaning attorneys take the position that, since a
client sought them out to handle a particular matter, they and only they must do
the work. But clients donít necessarily come to you because they want you, per
se, to work for them; rather, clients come to you because they have a problem to
be fixed. They may initially contend that youíre the only one who can prepare
their living will (especially if the referral source touted you), but if you
tell them that the attorney down the hall can do it (a) more quickly, (b) less
expensively and/or (c) just as well Ė under your supervision Ė thereís a very
good chance they will allow you to delegate their matter.
Failure to give up fun things. Granted, filling in the little blanks
on a general power of attorney may be the only thing in life that really gets
you going, but give it up anyway. A paralegal, secretary or, for that matter,
the 20-year-old redhead who you swear winked at you yesterday from behind the
LancŰme counter at Macyís could probably do it better and give you time for
Fear. Ways in which fear discourages delegation are fewer in number
but are more diabolical:
Fear of losing control. Yes, by giving a
file to someone else you do lose direct control Ė of that file. But consider
this, control freaks: In delegating work to another attorney, you trade
control of one lousy file for control of an entire human being. Now, donít
you feel better?
Fear of low inventory. Partners often hang on to even the most
mind-numbing work just so theyíre guaranteed of some billable activity.
Consequently, they proofread deeds of trust instead of letting some
first-year associate do it, and instead of acting like a partner by drumming
up more business. Which leads us to the Big Fear ...
Fear of having to market. If you give away all of your low-level
work, you may suddenly have a lot of time on your hands. You can only read
the paper, do the Jumble, eat lunch, play Minesweeper or go to the mall for
so long before your partners wise up and say, "Hey, you with the clean desk,
go out and catch some fresh fish before we forget how to give you a draw."
would hope that, by now, youíre aware of the costs and causes of poor delegation
and are at least mildly motivated to turn up your game a notch. Here are some
Be a mentor. Simply dropping a file on an associateís desk and
saying, "Iím a little busy today; take care of this appeal by 5:00, okay? If you
have any questions, Iíll be at the club," does not constitute effective
delegation. Take time to teach and train. Discuss the matter in some detail and
how you would approach it. Talk about the client, their expectations and some of
their less endearing quirks. When youíre done, ask the delegatee how he or she
plans to handle this matter. This has two benefits: First, you might learn
something, and, second, youíll find out if the delegatee understands anything
youíve just said.
Create your own "practice group."
And use it. Shanghai as many
lawyers and staff as you think itíll take to handle your disposable workload,
tell them you own them, and meet with them once or twice a week. Ask your
secretary to make a master case list and go through every item at every practice
group meeting. Assign files as soon as theyíre opened (or, better yet, include
an associate for at least part of the meeting with the client, so he/she can
hear first-hand what needs to be done and, at least in theory, get right on it),
to minimize eleventh-hour crunches that make delegating impossible.
Cultivate expertise. If you attract a lot of similar matters, give
them all to the same underling. That way, you only have to endure one major
orientation session (as opposed to going through the same drill with five
different lawyers), saving yourself a lot of time and creating a dependable
mini-specialist in the process.
Provide positive and negative feedback.
Donít leave your delegatees
guessing as to how you appraise their work. Immediate and appropriate feedback
is essential to the learning process and to cultivating reliable, lasting