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May 29, 2013

The benefits of delegation

This post was adapted from the new Third Edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide. It was written by Jim Hassett and Gary Richards.

For senior lawyers, the potential advantages of delegation are obvious, including:

  • Deliver high quality work to clients at the lower cost they demand, without discounting hourly rates or reducing profitability 
  • Train the next generation and develop good lawyers 
  • See if your team members can handle more responsibilities and give them opportunities for promotions 
  • Relieve stress by letting go of doing it all 
  • Focus on the most complex tasks or ones that require your particular skill set 
  • Gain time to focus on marketing and bring more work to the firm, rather than hoarding work 
  • You can take a vacation and be confident that others will pick up the slack


Your team members will also benefit: 

  • Morale will be boosted; no one will feel as if the job means nothing 
  • They will feel inspired and confident in their abilities 
  • There will be trust and bonding between you and team members 
  • They will see a future with the firm—a way up

The whole firm will benefit if those at the top become more effective delegators:

  • Top lawyers can focus on higher level tasks while giving the team a chance to work 
  • No one will feel useless or as if they can slack off 
  • A feeling of unity—we are all working on this matter together 


Last, but certainly not least, clients will benefit when you:

  • Address their concerns about high hourly billing rates 
  • Deliver high quality legal work at a lower total cost 
  • Provide backup for key tasks; if one person is out, that doesn’t mean the whole project will screech to a halt.

However, it is important to emphasize that delegation is not easy, and everyone has had the experience of spending so much time supervising a delegated task that “It would have been faster to do it myself.” Here are some common objections to delegating:

  • If I give away tasks, I won’t have enough to do 
  • It is my job to do it all 
  • I can do it better myself 
  • They will do it all wrong/not the way I want/not on time 
  • It takes too much time to explain 
  • It will cause my team too much stress and they won’t like the extra work 
  • I will lose control over the end result 
  • I will move away from the specialty I was known for and become more of a manager

But unless you plan to work in a solo practice, the only way to prosper in an increasingly competitive marketplace is to delegate properly.

When the total available work in a firm goes down, partners may be tempted to keep all the billable hours for themselves. Most of the time, what they should be doing is delegating more and using the freed-up time to find new work.

Some ways to overcome these objections to delegating:

  • Start small 
  • Hire the best. If someone isn’t capable of being delegated to, why are they working for you? 
  • Remember that delegating is a learn-as-you-go process. You and your team members will learn and grow through the delegated task itself. 
  • Remember that the senior attorney will still retain ultimate control of the project. She decides whom to delegate to, what to delegate, and the criteria for success.

If you believe you should delegate more, but could use some advice on exactly how to do that, see the sections “How to delegate” and “The delegation checklist” in Chapter 5 of the new third edition of the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.


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