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Lawyers: How to Make Your Team Happy and Productive

You’ve just asked your assistant or paralegal to do something. But you have this nagging feeling that they won’t do it quite right.

10 minutes later, they barge into your office asking questions. And not necessarily good questions.

You answer the questions and get back to what you were doing, but you’ve lost your train of thought.

Three hours later, they barge in again, asking another question. A question with an obvious answer that shouldn’t require them to bother you.

Now you’re starting to get worried.

Should you have done this task yourself? Was it a mistake to delegate? Would it be cheaper to get rid of staff and go back to being solo?

Then it becomes Groundhog Day.

Every day. For six months. Being interrupted. With silly questions.

You didn’t become a lawyer to manage a team. You became a lawyer to practice law.

But this is what often happens when the practice grows, you hire people, and you don’t know how to be a manager. Look, there's no shame in it. I was a terrible manager when I started hiring.

The good news is this problem is easily solved. The bad news is the problem started with you, and you have to solve it.

The Right Way and Wrong Way to Grow and Manage a Team

The right way is to delegate. The wrong way is to abdicate.

If you’ve got chronic pop-ins, and fear about the quality of work done by your staff stresses you out, it's because you've abdicated.

That means you assigned a task to someone, but you didn’t make the success criteria, timeline and process crystal clear.

For example, you didn’t set ground rules for when to involve you and how to involve you. You didn’t eliminate the need to ask the same question twice.

Related: How to Avoid Permanent Growing Pains in your Law Practice

It’s not your fault. You weren’t trained to be a manager. You were trained to get the legal work done.

But most lawyers make the mistake of confusing “I have to get the legal work done” with “I have to do all of the work.”

That’s a fundamental mistake.

The most important thing is that the work gets done right, not that the work gets done by you. In fact, it’s best if the work isn’t done by your because it gives you more time to serve more clients.

Delegation Done Right

At Practice Alchemy, our practice growth members use a framework called "Delegation Liberation" It has four steps:

Step 1: Decide exactly what you’re delegating.

This can’t be some large, amorphous concept. Instead of saying, “I’m delegating the Jones matter,” you have to say, “I’m delegating the drafting of a non-disclosure agreement for Randy Jones to sign with BigCo, in preparation for their meeting about a potential XYZ deal, where Randy views success as _____, and failure as ____.”

See how specific we got? See how the purpose behind the delegation gives your staff more clarity into why the document is important, and what implications that has on the draft?

Won't they be better equipped to know what success looks like for the client (and by extension, you) with more detail?

Step 2: Determine what successful completion of that project looks like.

That means successful for you, successful for the client, and successful for the employee responsible for completing the task.

For example, successful completion is

  • a non-disclosure agreement
  • based on your firm’s template
  • that protects the client’s intellectual property
  • while they’re negotiating a larger deal
  • which is reviewed by a peer at your firm before being delivered to you
  • delivered to you in Microsoft Word format
  • by a specific date
  • ready to be discussed with the client.

That's a painful level of detail when you read it, isn't it? In fact, a successful delegation will probably be even more detailed than this.

Let's remember why, though, so you can start to love the detail.

Related: The 3 Things that Determine the Success of Your Employees

It's because the more you can specify exactly what the complete project looks like, the more you can sleep easy knowing that the staff will handle it right.

So over time, your delegation list will grow longer.

But your interruptions will get fewer.

Step 3: Enumerate the success criteria.

Include a yardstick so your employee knows if they’ve completed the task successfully.

For example, the non-disclosure either is or is not based on your firm’s template. It either does or does not include the intellectual property protection clause. It either is or is not in Word. It either is or is not reviewed by a peer. It either is or is not delivered on time.

Step 4: Implement and iterate.

What’s going to happen the first time you try this?

Well, Aaron the Associate will pop into your office and ask a bunch of questions.

You’ll do two things.

First, you’ll set boundaries for answering questions. A batch of questions will be answered in context at a set time so your work, and the workflow of your practice, aren’t constantly disrupted.

Second, every time Aaron the Associate asks a question, he’ll be responsible for documenting the answer so you'll never have to answer it again.

Related: Why Lawyers Are the Ultimate Entrepreneurs

In addition to knowing what is being delegated and what success looks like, you’ll build a library of intellectual property for your practice. When Aaron moves on to his next job, you'll still have a manual - so training the next associate will be that much easier, and you don't have to re-start the interruptions from a new employee.

You’ll no longer be the bottleneck, and employees will be empowered to get things done on their own.

No Pain, No Gain

This whole process will be painful at first because you have to document everything. (Of course, we at Practice Alchemy have a few tricks up our sleeve for solving that problem. But I can’t give away all our secrets, can I?)

One of our members managed to document all of his procedures in two-and-a-half months using our methodology.

Once everything is documented, you’ll find that life is much easier. You can concentrate more because you have fewer interruptions.

You’ve clarified what success looks like with delegation, and you can feel confident that work is being done according to your quality standards.

For those of you who insist that delegation can't work. That only you could possibly do the work the right way, answer this question:

Is there any other lawyer in the United States who is practicing in the same practice area as you, has clients, and is doing a good job?

If the answer is “yes,” that means you’re not the only person in the universe who can successfully complete a particular task.

In other words, it can be delegated. We can show you how.

Raj Jha