Growing Your Law Firm Career by Effectively Delegating Work to Associates
In law firms, traditionally, the senior-junior relationship is respected up to a point and building a team of followers depends greatly upon effective delegation of work to promising associates. This is required to emerge as and being able to shoulder the responsibilities of a team-leader. In law firms, lawyers who are looked upon as team leaders are rarely officially recognized as such on their designations. But the transition to management position does not happen in a day. It only happens when you can act as a proper mentor to associates.
When can you identify that you are transitioning to management position within a law firm
As the writer, Jay Sullivan, wrote in one of the best articles I read on the matter Art of Communication: Effective Delegation, and published in the New York Law Journal put it:
“One day, after years of practicing law, you will suddenly realize you spend more time reviewing the work of others than generating your own. Rather than simply cranking out billable hours, you now are expected to build the bench strength of the firm by developing other attorneys - while continuing to crank out billable hours. Congratulations: You are now part of management.”
But, as Sullivan warns, the problem is in simultaneously trying to build your credibility as an experienced attorney and also as a person interested in developing the professional skills of others. The solution lies in effective delegation of law firm work.
The four steps of effective delegation of law firm work
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The four steps for effectively delegating work to associates are as follows:
Motivate by defining the place of an assignment within the larger scheme of things
In order to motivate a junior associate about an assignment, he/she needs to be told of the importance of the work for the firm, for the project of which the work is a part, and for maintaining client-relationships.
It is important for the attorney delegating work to an associate, not to lie or mislead about the benefits of any work. Usually, new associates are smart enough to spot that they are being lied to. It is wrong to overemphasize or inflate the importance of the delegated work, however, if the work also helps in developing particular skills of an associate or involves other benefits then she/he needs to know that.
State both requirements and expectations with clarity The attorney delegating the work needs to ensure that the associate understands the nature of the work, the requirements, and expectations. If he/she is not conversant with the type of work delegated to him/her and has no previous experience then finding out ways to help him/her achieve the target and arrange for support and facilities is essential.
The attorney needs to be very clear as to how the associate is expected to begin working on the assignment and the product expected in the end. Provide clear achievable deadlines, make the associate aware of common issues and problems and their solutions, and if possible segment the work into multiple deadlines to deliver in sequence.
Define the role hierarchy within the project
The attorney leading the associate and delegating work to him/her needs to make him/her acquainted and knowledgeable about who else is working on the project and the parts of the project being handled by them. Without being aware of the persons responsible with other parts of the same project, it is difficult for the associate to work in step with others and complete his/her duties within time.
Go over everything again and summarize
After explaining and detailing everything about a given task, it is extremely important to have the associate summarize what he/she understood of the responsibilities and the task delegated to him/her. This is important to reduce chances of misunderstanding and disruptions in workflow.
Within law firms, titular changes are imperceptible, though the changes in roles and associated responsibilities are visible well enough. Your business card may not change, but your responsibilities would, and if you were to act as a team leader, it would be difficult if you do not start earning loyalties of associates early in their careers. One of the easiest and most effective ways of reaching that objective is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of incoming associates and delegate work correctly and effectively to them.
Attorneys who are able to effectively delegate work to associates, help to build their confidence, achievements, and loyalty. The effective delegation of work by identifying who can handle what and delegating accordingly increases productivity, and at the end of the day, the gratitude of associates who benefited from the attorney's help. This is how, in addition to proving one's own expertise in subject matter, an attorney can slowly move to management positions within a law firm.