Delegate to Break Through That Glass Ceiling

Lawyers, you know that if you want your firms to be more efficient and profitable, you need to delegate.

You know that if you want more time with your families and the occasional good night’s sleep, you need to delegate.

You even know that if you want to grow in your role (and to allow others to do the same), you need to delegate.

So, what’s the problem?

Why are lawyers holding back when it comes to delegating?

Lots of possibilities…  You’ve had some bad experiences where you ended up doing the work you had delegated yourself, at the 11th hour. You felt exposed as the work returned to you wasn’t up to your standards. You got a little too comfortable in your role as the doer (it happens). You didn’t feel sufficiently secure in your role to mentor others up your level (also happens).

Whatever it was, the result is the same. If you want to break through the glass ceiling, you need to figure out a way to delegate more.

But, how to delegate so it’s worry free and actually delivers on the supposed benefits, well, that is the question:

  1. Write yourself a new job description. Go ahead. Even if you’re a partner or firm principal. Job descriptions aren’t just for staff. What is it that you’d really like to be focused on that you simply cannot get to? Like rainmaking or strategic planning, to name a few possibilities. Or, maybe, dedicating yourself to a single area of practice or specific type of file that holds your interest.
  2.  Reevalute your team. Do you even have the right talent and skill on staff to do the work you’d like to delegate? If not, put a plan together. Train. Hire. Fire. Do what you need to do to build the firm you envision, rather than just continuing with business as usual.
  3. Reevaluate your structure. What are your team’s expectations about doing work for others? Is the reporting structure clear… to everyone? If not, you (and anyone else that needs to delegate) will be set up for awkwardness and possibly tension. Instead of assigning work to the most appropriate individual, you’ll be asking for favours from whoever happens to be available.
  4. Learn how to delegate. It’s an art, from what you assign, to whom you assign it to, the briefing you provide at the outset, the guidance you provide along the way and the milestones you set in place. Seek advice and coaching on how to delegate (or how to be delegated to) from a qualified business consultant.
  5. Stop seeing lawyers that run firms as simply senior lawyers. You’re management. That means managing – staff, clients, files… Embracing that reality is the first step towards getting through the learning curve and setting up the systems and processes to help everyone thrive in their roles.

And one final piece of advice. Once you get all that right, don’t take back what you delegate.

Be aware that when you tell someone to leave a file with you for your comments or wait for additional information…, you’re taking back the work you delegated. And the ‘delegated’ is twiddling thumbs waiting (and hoping) that it’ll come back. Just like a boomerang.

So, this week’s tip, delegate more. Besides the improved wellbeing of the practice and your personal quality of life, you might be surprised at how much you enjoy expanding your collaboration and partnership with the rest of the team.

For more on the delegation process see SlawTip’s earlier post on this topic:
Delegate, Don’t Abdicate, a guest post from Rachel Spence, a law clerk with Wise Law Office

And Toronto Marketing Blog, for my post: Stop taking back what you delegate! 

-Sandra Bekhor, Toronto



  1. Wonderful and actionable article. Delegation is a soft skill that will be in high demand as the legal profession evolves and cost-efficiency becomes the norm, not the exception.

    Working with a consultant will help you update your skills and manage any resistance or fear you might have about letting go.

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