Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

6 Principles of Delegating in the Law Office

Many good lawyers are poor delegators, and their practices suffer as a result.

Their quality of life takes a hit as well.

It’s understandable, of course. Lawyers are doers. We’re trained to take the initiative, to get things done. We like to be in control. We have trouble letting things go.

And yet nobody can do it all themselves. When you’re in private practice – and especially if you’re solo – you wear lots of hats. You might be an accountant, advertiser and marketer. A bill collector. A therapist. A supply room manager, copy machine repairer, tax preparer, and perhaps other things.

It’s easy to find yourself spending more time on these matters than taking care of clients and rainmaking. That’s where delegation comes in. Farm out those tasks that can be done by others, and reserve for yourself only those activities that:

  • You enjoy doing, and
  • Only you can do, and
  • Generate revenue.

6 Tips for Effective Delegation

Here are six ways to become a better delegator:

  1. Pick good people. Having co-workers you can trust and rely on makes it easy to let go of projects and sleep well at night.
  2. Start small. Assign a simple task – proof-reading a document or returning a call – and see what happens. If the results are positive, move on to meatier matters.
  3. Track your time. You might be unaware of how much of your day is being frittered away on trivial tasks. Time is precious. Get a handle on how you’re spending it.
  4. Give good instructions. Sometimes things aren’t done to your liking because your employee wasn’t exactly sure what you wanted. Maybe you weren’t even sure yourself. Paint a clear picture of the desired result, provide sufficient guidance, then sit back and savor your freedom.
  5. Leverage technology. “Thanks to technology like project management software, you can see who’s working on a particular task and how it’s progressing,” writes John Rampton in Entrepreneur magazine. “You can also use technology to share, schedule or provide online training opportunities to strengthen your team’s skill set. Most importantly, you can use channels like email, Slack or teleconferences to communicate, share information or collaborate.”
  6. Don’t micromanage. Encourage ownership by giving employees some latitude in figuring out solutions for themselves. This will increase productivity and build trust.

Rule 5.1 – 5.3 Responsibility of Supervising Lawyers

Once you’ve delegated, you can’t just let the chips fall where they may. You’ve got to provide continuing supervision and adequate oversight, according to the Rules of Professional Conduct. If you don’t, you might be on the hook if your subordinate – whether an attorney or a nonlawyer – does something unethical.

Rules 5.1 and 5.3 describe the responsibilities of a supervising attorney:

(a) A lawyer who individually or together with other lawyers has managerial authority in a law firm or organization shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm has measures in place to reasonably assure that the subordinate’s conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer.

(b) A lawyer having direct supervisory authority shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the subordinate’s conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer; and

(c) A lawyer shall be responsible for conduct of the subordinate that would violate the Rules of Professional Conduct if done by the lawyer if:

(1) the lawyer orders or, with the knowledge of the specific conduct, ratifies the conduct involved; or

(2) the managing or supervising lawyer knows of the conduct at a time when its consequences can be avoided or mitigated but fails to take reasonable remedial action to avoid the consequences.

How do you delegate in your office? What works best for you?

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. During the course of his 35- year career, he has been a solo practitioner, corporate lawyer, legal editor, Legal Aid staff attorney and insurance risk manager. Today he helps lawyers and firms succeed through marketing, work-life balance and reclaiming passion for what they do. He is available for consultations, retreats and presentations ( Contact or 919-619-2441 to learn how Jay can help your practice.


About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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