Delegation is an important management skill. You have to prioritize between the work you could be doing versus the work you should be doing. In my law practice since I have sufficient administrative support, I have a sharp distinction: if I can’t bill a client for a particular task, someone else needs to be doing it. Now there are obvious caveats to this – e.g., marketing and relationship-building work that only you can do – but the principle still stands.
You are in a service business and there are tasks to be performed that your clients won’t pay you to do, so someone else should be doing them. Otherwise, you are taking income out of your pocket and your practice’s accounts by electing to do work that doesn’t cause income.
There are those who say you should even delegate personal errands because your time is too valuable to be spent in that way. Donald Miller tells a story on his podcast, Building a StoryBrand, that a consultant once told him he should not even be mowing his own yard because the time that took is time he could have been working for clients and earning money for his business. That seems like a bridge too far to me. Yard work is a stress relief outlet for me. Every Saturday morning for nine months out of the year, I get 90-120 minutes of solitude, where I can listen to podcasts or audiobooks or just let my mind float for a while. That particular personal, non-billable task is worth more to me than the money I could be earning while doing it.[This is an excerpt from Level Up Your Law Practice, which is now available for purchase.]
What Work to Delegate
There is a balance to be struck. But let’s look at specific ways that delegating administrative or non-income related tasks can lead to a more profitable business. During his presidency, Dwight D. Eisenhower faced a barrage of decisions to be made every day. He developed a system that has become known as the Eisenhower Matrix to help contend with the overload. It advised how he should respond to a situation that arose.
He created a box with four quadrants. Where a task fell within the matrix determined how it would be handled, or whether it would be handled at all.
If something is both urgent and important, you should handle it immediately. Last spring, I got a call from a client that one of their trucks had been involved in a wreck that was likely to result in a fatality. They needed me to go out to the site to coordinate all the things that needed to happen with their driver and vehicle to be compliant with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. This was a time-sensitive matter that was critical for the client. I dropped what I was doing and headed out.
If a matter is important but not pressing, you schedule a time to do it. When you get a scheduling order from a court and see that your dispositive motion deadline is 90 days away, you schedule time to work on your motion for summary judgment within the next 89 days. It isn’t necessary for you to stop everything and start drafting that motion and gathering exhibits immediately. The task is important, but there’s plenty of time to get it done.
An issue that is urgent but unimportant enables you to delegate it to others, whether that is to support staff, a paralegal, or an associate. Entering billable time into the system needs to be done regularly, but you aren’t the person who needs to do it. There are plenty of non-billable tasks that need to be done promptly but don’t necessarily need your attention. These are things you should delegate to others.
Finally, if something neither important nor urgent, don’t bother doing it at all. Don’t even delegate it. Just eliminate the task. I used to keep paper files for all my cases. They included correspondence, pleadings, discovery documents, medical records, and so on. Every document that became a part of the case went into the paper file. It took an extraordinary amount of space. But technology and the cheap prices of digital storage have made paper files like that unnecessary for my practice. The only time I use paper documents is in preparing for depositions, preparing to argue motions, or getting ready for trial. And for those things, I can print the documents as needed. So I have eliminated the unimportant and non-urgent task of printing and filing paper documents for my cases. This has freed staff up to work on other tasks that I or others have delegated to them.
Delegating Helps You Manage Your Time More Effectively
As a lawyer, you are the engine for the success of your practice. The undercurrent that should affect your decision-making is “How much income can I generate today?” That may be through billable work, developing cases to try or settle, or networking with clients and potential clients. However your practice is structured, you are tasked with its financial viability. You can only shepherd that if you are focusing on the income-driving work.
Sending out invoices, maintaining records of cash flow, and handling payroll are a drain on your time and mental resources. You can take back those resources by hiring someone to handle your firm’s finances.1 Even if you aren’t in a position to hire someone full time, there are options for virtual assistants and bookkeepers, whose time you “rent” for an allotted amount each month.
Find as many ways as possible to clear out your mental space and free up time to do the important work of building your law practice. Only you can drive your cases forward, maintain relationships with existing clients, and develop new relationships. The necessary tasks that don’t fall within those broad categories may be delegated. And by delegating this work, you are positioning yourself to be more effective by increasing your capacity for creative energy and profitability.
Delegating Enables You to Maintain Your Creative Energy
Bring in people to do the things you’re not passionate about. For every construction defect case, there are dozens of depositions. Contractors, sub-contractors, experts, the plaintiffs. Do you have any idea how mind-numbing it can be to summarize twenty depositions about defective windows? I do because I’ve done it. My clients require reporting about depositions in cases. So deposition summaries are essential tasks in these cases. But they often take hours and can be a drain on your creative energy. Delegate the task.
Doing so enables you to pour your creative energy into the higher priority tasks of case strategy. If you took the deposition, you don’t need to summarize it to know whether it was beneficial to your case or problematic. But you likely are the person who needs to develop either the measures to counterbalance the harmful testimony or use the benefits of it.
By shedding the necessary but mundane work, you free yourself up to do work that requires a greater deal of skill and experience. Work that only you can do.
Delegating Increases Your Profitability
Profitability is the key to the survival and growth of any business. You can only do so much work in a day before your reach a saturation point. Eventually, you get to the point that you can no longer take on any more work. It is only by delegating work to others that you can increase your capacity for more work, and therefore your profitability. Consider what Becky Mollenkamp has to say about reaching this saturation point and her response:
I reached a point where I could no longer take on new clients and more work without putting in a ridiculous number of hours each week. Instead of saying no, I decided to find a younger professional in my field to whom I could subcontract the work. I pay her a reasonable fee that’s still below what I earn on the project. It requires some oversight on my part, but the arrangement allows me to continue adding new clients and gives me time to focus on growing the business even more.2
Delegating can be difficult. We inherently trust ourselves to handle things appropriately more than we trust others. To force ourselves into delegating, we have to consider the vision that we established for our practices and the specific goals we would like to achieve. We must recognize that the way forward is through growth, which comes with its own pains. Sometimes that involves training others to do the work we have previously done ourselves and trusting them to handle it competently.
Alyssa Gregory underwent such a transition in her business:
Whether you have employees, subcontractors or family pitching in, learning how to delegate effectively can be the difference between reaching new heights and burning out. Many small business owners are accustomed to doing a variety of things themselves instead of enlisting the help of others, so it can be challenging to identify the tasks you don’t need to do yourself and assign the work to someone else. Once you overcome the challenge, though, you will have more time to dedicate to what you do best — grow your business.3
There is work you
can and must do yourself. Some of it requires immediate attention. More of it
can be scheduled for the future. More still can be delegated to associates,
support staff, or even virtual assistants. And there is some work that can be eliminated.
Deciphering among these things and handling them appropriately increases your
capacity to do the work that only you can do. It increases your profitability
by allowing you to take on more work through delegation of non-essential tasks
1 Bedros Keuilian, “How to Level Up Your Business and Unlock Success,” https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/327304.
2 Becky Mollenkamp, “Level Up Your Business,” https://beckymollenkamp.com/level-up-advice/.
3 Alyssa Gregory, “7 Ways to Take Your Small Business to the Next Level,” https://www.thebalancesmb.com/small-business-next-level-2951535.