The Delegation Dilemma

You’ve had an up and down year, and suddenly when it rains, it pours. Clients are coming in by the bucket, tasks are piling up, and you have got to delegate your work. Your articling student ambles up to your office with a gentle knock, asking, “Hi – just wondering if you have any tasks I can help out with?” You make a mental note that this is a keen student, maybe a keeper. You hand her over a file, spend a few seconds explaining the task, and off she goes. That should do it, right?

But the articling student comes back a few days later with a barrage of questions, at just the wrong time. In the middle of drafting a big document you’ve been interrupted. You sigh and turn around, your body and your mind, to answer the questions. Before you know it you’ve spent another “0.5” explaining a task. Could you have done it sooner if you had done it yourself? Will the job turn out the way you want?

The delegation dilemma is this – you want to delegate your work but you also have to teach, give feedback, and occasionally handhold. Will the task be done better? Have you actually saved any time? Perhaps not this task. But the good news is, the better you delegate, and the better you train, the better your student/law clerk/assistant will be. And, with good work put in, you eventually will have that well-trained helper. Here’s some delegation tips.

Explain the whole file, every time. It may not be enough to say, “go look at my interview notes” and write that statement of claim. A good explanation means you can highlight what’s important and what the priorities are. You can point out the pitfalls before they’ve been fallen into, and you can hammer home the points that need support. It will take more time initially, but presumably the pay-off is a better work product. Similarly, explain in detail the task at hand. It may be necessary to provide precedents, to explain the formatting you desire, to paint a picture of the end product. If you want a well-written memo in full sentences, then say so. And if you want a short one-page note-form memo, say so. Give a sensible deadline to avoid last-minute calamities. Give enough time for your helper to complete the work, and give yourself leeway to review the work. And finally, determine the level of client contact you want to delegate. Is this a task that won’t require any client contact? Is the client too important and sensitive to delegate? Answer these questions before you hand off the work.

Good delegation can greatly improve your ability to take on more files and do good work. Make sure you review work that goes out in your name – you are still responsible for clerical mistakes, which account for some 6% of malpractice claims. Dedicate time up front to train well, and thereby resolve the delegation dilemma.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

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