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Effective Delegation of Tasks for New Lawyers

If you’re a new associate, more than likely you also have a staff. For many who went straight through school, this could very well be the first time you have people working for you. Questions may arise: how to treat them, how to address them, and most importantly how to delegate tasks to them. Proper delegation is an essential skill, and often one that is underdeveloped in recent graduates. It can be easy to just take more and more work upon oneself and attempt to do everything but that will result in one being swamped, quickly. You have a staff, utilize them. Of course, the most important aspect is to be sure you have a good staff, but that’s for a different post.

When dealing with staff (paralegals, assistants, secretaries, clerks, junior associates) keep in mind that proper delegation can be tricky and people often have different ideas as to what delegation means. To take a page out of business management, I’d suggest using SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

To ensure that any delegation that takes place meats the SMART goal above, follow these steps:

  1. Define the task
  2. Select the individual or team & Assess ability
  3. Explain the reasons
  4. State required results
  5. Agree deadlines
  6. Support and communicate
  7. Feedback on results

I want to stress number two, assessing ability. Ask yourself: Is the other person or team of people capable of doing the task? Do they understand what needs to be done? If not, you can’t delegate.

Alan Chapman provides a easily used SMART delegation form on his site here.

I’d also suggest looking at the classic  Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum which is a simple model which shows the relationship between the level of freedom that a manager chooses to give to a team, and the level of authority used by the manager.

Delegation must be in the air today as right I was about to post this it popped in my RSS Reader that Steven B. Levy posted on his blog about delegation. He breaks down three areas of delegation that are often found in firms in relation from a partner to a junior associate:

  1. Closely supervising
  2. Guiding
  3. Partnering

Mr. Levy breaks down the three and offers advice on how to deal with them. Worth a read.