The commercial value of effective delegation
What do clients want and how best is this delivered?
If challenged, most clients would say that they would like a better service, delivered faster and more cheaply. If a lawyer can deliver on the first two then then there is probably no need to worry about also reducing the price.
The easiest way of delivering on all three client wishes is to learn how to delegate effectively. If I do something myself I am human and I might make a mistake, but if I review the work done by someone else there is less a chance of a mistake going unnoticed. Two people working together can complete a task faster than one person could manage alone. If you feel it necessary to reduce the price then this is more easily done with a profit still being made if the bulk of the work is undertaken by the junior colleague.
The benefit to the firm is that lawyer productivity is being improved and the senior lawyer releases some of their time which can be used on more valuable activities.
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What stops legal work from being delegated?
Culture and habit are major problems. Lawyers are comfortable doing all the work on their own and a happy client is unlikely to complain if their favourite lawyer does everything. Lawyers are also incentivised to maximise their chargeable hours and have sometimes had bad experiences when they tried to delegate as the work came back poorly done, over budget and late.
Another problem is that junior lawyers often put up barriers to work being delegated too. Their experience might previously have been that they received poor instructions, did not receive the necessary support as they tried to progress the matter and then received little or negative feedback at the end. If this has been their experience then it is not surprising that they hide away from those who might want to delegate.
How do we change the culture?
This is always difficult. It is interesting to see that senior people believe that they give clear instructions and that they supervise effectively while their junior colleagues often say that this is not the case. If the junior colleagues are correct then this might explain why some delegated work is done poorly. From this analysis, it becomes evident that when delegating the key skills that need to be developed are as follows: –
- To be able to give a clear instruction, which requires time, preparation so that a detailed and logical explanation can be given, an understanding of what the junior colleague does not know, providing all available knowhow and support and allowing time to check that the instruction has been understood;
- To supervise effectively which means having a disciplined approach to supervision and making sure that it happens on a regular basis. The supervision needs to be proactive rather than reactive and is best undertaken by asking a series of open questions to get the junior colleague to talk about what they have done. If there are clearly problems then further support can be offered;
- To provide feedback at the end of the task so that the colleague can build on the experience. The feedback needs to be timely, specific and should focus on the positive behaviours that are being developed.
Measuring the amount and effectiveness of delegation
I always hear that it is hard to measure delegation and to determine whether it is effective. While it is a soft skill it is quite easily measured. To measure whether more delegation is happening you can calculate hours leverage on every file (hours recorded by all lawyers ÷ hours recorded by the senior lawyer). If the figure is 1.0 then no work is being delegated and as the figure increases, so too is the amount of delegation. This does not measure the quality of the delegation but measuring the recovery rate does give an insight in to whether the delegation has been effective. If the recovery rate worsens then this might indicate that the work was not delegated well.
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