“If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.”– John C. Maxwell
Do you ever feel as if your to-do list is never-ending or you are always short of time? In a survey conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), it was revealed that 46% of companies have a high level of concern about their workers’ delegation skills. Delegation of work takes a great deal of unlearning, particularly if you are of the habit of doing everything yourself. You will need to let go of the adage, “If you want something done right, you must do it yourself.”
At some point in your career, you will undoubtedly have achieved enough experience in your practice to have younger attorneys working under your guidance. When the time comes, you will have to learn a whole new set of skills to pass on the torch in a way that is productive both for them and for you. Delegation of work might not be easy but when done well it has tremendous value both in maximizing the limited hours you have available in a day and in allowing younger attorneys you might be assigning tasks to to learn the tricks of the trade.
As challenging as delegation can be, these three steps will help you delegate effectively:
- Delegate everything you can
- Recognize the things that can’t be delegated
- Change your ‘cannots’ into ‘cans’
#1. Delegate Everything You Can
Try to delegate every task which can be delegated to your team. If you don’t delegate, you’ll always be overburdened, putting you at risk of missed deadlines and slippages in work.
Once you start delegating, you’ll soon realize that it:
- Reduces your mental load
- Saves time
- Improves client relations
For example, you don’t need to deal with invoice disputes yourself. If your client thinks that your billing hours are too high, let one of your (less senior) team members tackle the situation.
The delegation will have the added benefit of freeing up your mind and time to better handle the more important tasks on your plate, resulting in a job well done.
#2. Recognize the Things That Can’t be Delegated
You need to know what you can and cannot delegate. If you are anything like me, you won’t let anything get out of the door on your project, unless you are completely comfortable with it. If you delegate work to a team member who cannot handle the particular task, you’ll end up doing it yourself, which is an inefficient use of everybody’s time. Often, the task will end up getting done twice, as it is easier to redo something from scratch than to fix somebody else’s shoddy job.
To avoid this situation, you need to recognize which tasks can be delegated to your team and which you have to handle yourself. While there will always be some level of rework when delegating tasks, especially when you are training someone, it is important to consider the strengths of your team members when making assignments. You don’t want to delegate a task that your team member might still be too inexperienced to handle. Thus, the key is to delegate all you can, but to also recognize what you cannot delegate.
#3. Change Your ‘Cannots’ Into ‘Cans’
The final step to effective delegation involves a special alchemy: transforming your ‘cannots’ into ‘cans’. To achieve this, a few things are essential:
Recognize the Strengths of Your Team Members
Knowing the strengths and abilities of your team members is key. For example, one colleague might be good at drafting patent applications, while another might be good at analyzing office actions in order to draft a meticulous response. Acknowledging these strengths will make your job reviewing their work easier and faster. Everyone wants their team to do a spectacular job—because, let’s be honest, at the end of the day, you are still accountable for the work done by your team. Therefore, learning what to delegate to whom is an art, which you need to master as a leader.
Train Your Team Members to Overcome Weaknesses
You also need to recognize the areas where your your team members might be less capable. Once these areas are identified, training can be provided to turn weaknesses into strengths. It is essential to build support for people working on the tasks you assign. For example, you might provide a library of template communications, to give your team members examples of how to respond to a particular kind of communication from the USPTO. This will make it much easier for a newer attorney to put together the expected response.
Provide The Right Kind Of Support At The Right Time
Make sure that while delegating, you provide your team members with the support they need when they need it. For example, if you have tasked a colleague with analyzing an office action and drafting a response, you must explain what to look for and how issues can be tackled. You might want to point out key areas to focus on and refer them to your library of office action responses for additional guidance.
As a matter of habit, during the last fifteen years of my career, I put together a document containing examples of successful office action responses, to help with future responses. It was, in effect, a small library of office action responses that I could use in my own practice and share with colleagues I might be assigning work to. Eventually, I thought, why not build a library of office action responses that encompasses the work of other attorneys as well? This is when I put together the Arguminer software. It allows you to upload your office action and will analyze various parameters within it to match it with relevant responses other attorneys filed. It looks something like this:
You can customize the results by selecting different parameters, such as successful responses to office actions by the same examiner. You might want to show your team member the arguments used in similar office responses, which will have higher chances of succeeding.
Getting a younger attorney to get the same results as you would, is good delegation, which is exactly what this software helps to achieve.
The more you delegate, the more trust you place in your team members. It boosts their confidence, helps in improving the overall team effort, and gives you time to focus on more important tasks.
Practicing good delegation also gives you a breather to concentrate on the things that are important to you. This is a special category of “non-delegable duties” that for me includes making time each night to spend with my one-year-old daughter before bed. There are some things I don’t assign out, even on my busiest days.
I believe that the more you can outsource, automate and delegate out, the more time you have for your family and loved ones.
Good luck! I hope you can put Arguminer to use, to effectively delegate and train the young attorneys working with you.
Disclaimer – “The statements and views expressed in this posting are my own and do not reflect those of my law firm, are intended for general informational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion.”