Seven steps to better delegating for overworked attorneys

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Attorneys, especially sole practitioners, are often poor at delegating. “Nobody can do it as well as I can,” they say, and that’s not ego talking, it’s usually true.

There is risk in giving a task to someone who might not do it as well as you or might not get it done on time, but delegating is essential to the growth of a law practice. Delegating gives you leverage and leverage helps you to earn more and work less.

To get better results when you delegate, follow these seven steps:

  1. Give specific instructions. Describe what you want done in sufficient detail, in writing if possible. If instructions are given orally, ask them to be repeated back to you. Tell them to ask questions if they don’t understand.
  2. Give objectives, not procedures. Tell them what you want done, not how. If you’ve chosen the right person for the job, trust them to get the job done. Guide them, don’t micro-manage them.
  3. Tell them why. They’ll do a better job when they are invested in the outcome instead of just carrying out orders so explain why the task is important. And, if you give them more than one task at a time, tell them the relative importance of each.
  4. Give a due date (and time). Due dates help them to know what is expected and allow them to prioritize their work flow.
  5. Equip and empower them. Make sure they have what they need to get the job done–tools, a budget, assistance–and the authority to decide what to do. Don’t make them come back to you with every little decision.
  6. Offer incentives. If you have an especially valuable project, you might want to offer something for getting it done early or with a better outcome. A day off, dinner for two for them and their spouse, a cash bonus, all work well.
  7. Give praise. When they do a good job, thank them (even though they were doing their job) and praise them. Let them know you are pleased and they’ll want to do a good job for you next time.

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