Collaboration: Breaking Each Task Down into its Many Parts
Picking up on last week’s post, let us start with a basic assumption – there’s nothing ad hoc about how successful law practice groups collaborate.
It takes real planning and repetition to create an optimal, collaborative work-flow routine.
Now, by practice group, we don’t necessarily mean anything highfaluting.
In a solo practice, it may simply be a lawyer and a single assistant. Or a single lawyer and outsourced collaborators. A larger group model, operating as a stand-alone boutique or as one corner within a larger firm structure, might involve a senior lawyer, a junior lawyer, a law clerk and a student-at-law working together.
There are infinite variations on this theme, but irrespective of the size of your group, the questions for planners and team-players remain the same: Who can handle each small step involved in completing a single, broader task most competently? Most efficiently? Most cost-effectively? How can seamless handoffs be achieved? What structures can be developed to enable each contributor to maximize his or her value added?
By breaking major tasks down into smaller component parts, rational systems can be developed that allow tasks to be optimally shared among your practice group.
Consider what’s involved in drafting a pleading or other important litigation document, and think about these questions:
1. Who should be the group’s time/task keeper – the person who identifies what task is next required, notes when it must be completed and manages the group’s tickler and bring-forward systems?
2. How does the first working draft of a document get generated? Is it possible to standardize part of it? Can a law clerk or assistant – or software – produce a preliminary working version (or at least get it started) by setting up a template and filling in many of the necessary blanks like dates, times, names, and key information fields? What efficiencies and cost-savings to clients can be achieved at this stage?
3. Is background work, like research or document-vetting necessary to the task? How can this work be completed most time and cost effectively?
4. Who is best suited to take on the major step of working with this preliminary version, customizing it and completing a comprehensive first draft for senior counsel’s review. Who is best suited to adding strategic content and reference relevant documents? Can a law clerk or junior associate handle the heavy lifting here?
5. When is the document ready for senior counsel to add his or her contributions to get to a final draft? Is a preliminary review phase appropriate, for suggested top-line revisions and comments from the senior, before the document is returned to the associate for completion and final review? Should the senior simply run with the ball at this stage to completion? What will work best? Where can time and costs be saved and efficiencies maximized?
5. Compilation and delivery: Once a draft is complete, whose job is it to assemble the final document and ensure it gets where it needs to get when it is supposed to get there? What client approvals or attendances must be facilitated? Who needs to be copied? Who ensures that all team members see the final product?
With many eyes and many hands on an important task, mutual accountability is assured. And to the extent that two heads are often better than one, better work product will typically emerge from the group that collaborates effectively within a well- defined system.
If it seems complicated, it really isn’t.
However, you have to be prepared for the fact that lawyers are not, by nature and by training, collaborators. In fact one definition of collaboration is “Something that isn’t taught in law school but is taught in business school.” Why? Businesses have woken up to the fact that well-functioning collaborative teams produce a better product that individuals working alone. So business schools force people to work in highly effective teams to prepare them for their work experience. As lawyers, we are late to this game and have to play a bit of catch-up. S’ok …we are quick studies!
So to move ahead, the most important step is to resolve to change how you do things and put yourself and your teams on a good collaborative footing.
Take a moment and analyze your needs and think about how to build systems that will bring out the best in your group. In fact, get your practice group members involved in the building!
In other words, collaborate.