There are two characteristics of successful attorneys that often keep them from being good delegators. By proclivity and by training they are risk averse, and they really like to win. It’s your core mission after all, to protect your clients from negative outcomes. And your determination to represent them rigorously is fundamental to the success you’ve achieved (and to the personal satisfaction you experience as a result).
But these traits also conspire to make you hold on to more tasks than you should, either because you’re afraid of someone else making a mistake or you don’t want to admit that someone else could do something faster or better than you. Of course, the conspiracy is mostly subconscious. Let’s assume for a minute that you have capable staff right now, people with the right skills and attitudes who want to help you be your best. Dollars to donuts you haven’t asked them recently (if ever) what else they could be doing for you, what other routine activities they could take off your shoulders. Why? In my experience coaching and consulting with hundreds of lawyers regardless of practice area or setting, it comes down to either misplaced risk aversion or misplaced ego needs (or both).
Here are the most common rationalizations that tend to mask the real reasons attorneys don’t optimize their delegation: “But Bill, my people are already swamped.” And “To tell you the truth, they’re just mediocre employees. They’re nice enough, but they’re limited.” In fact, I hear these excuses as often when lawyers DO have perfectly capable personnel as when they don’t.
So, either your staff is more capable than your fears and ego allow you to believe, OR, they’re not. If they’re not, you need to address that either by keeping them and training them properly, or by replacing them with capable people. If they ARE capable of handling more delegation, you can take steps to overcome these two barriers by simply ‘fessing up – both to yourself AND to your staff.
Ask them to think about what they could help you with, or where they’d like to deepen their knowledge in order to handle more sophisticated work. You’ll be surprised at the list of things they’ll offer, from administrative tasks around file management to drafting next-level communications.
The topic of delegation appears on every single list of top time management tips for lawyers, and for good reason. It’s how you leverage yourself to get things done. Yet, the very attributes that contributed to your success to date are probably holding you back from becoming even more successful. My readers, seminar attendees and clients have heard me say it a hundred times, so here it is again: Awareness is the first step.