Why Defining Job Descriptions is the First Step Towards Effective Delegation

Learning how to delegate is a huge part of effective practice management for law firm associates. But in order to delegate effectively you must first define the job descriptions of everyone you work with at the firm.

The reason behind this is pretty simple: If you don’t understand with precision who is responsible for what, then how can you ever get clear on what constitutes delegable work?

And it’s not enough to define those roles simply by outlining a job description. You have to get a clear understanding of the specific tasks your secretary, paralegal, case manager, and colleagues are responsible for, and make sure that these roles are clear to anyone working on your team. They can change depending on the type and size of project and team members involved.

When you have a crystal clear sense of what’s in your job description and what’s in the job description of those you work with, then delegating becomes systematic–-and you eliminate miscommunications or time spent doing tasks that you are not responsible for.

The most difficult part of delegating is maintaining discipline. Sometimes we see an easy task in front of us–-something that's clearly in the job description of someone else at the firm–but we decide instead to spend 25 minutes to "just take care of it ourselves," thinking that it will make life easier. 

But consider this: there are at least three major problems with this kind of thinking, and they’re all preventing you from being more efficient with your time:

  1. Those 25 minutes you devote to an “easy” task add up over the course of a week and are stripping you of the time that you need to get your work done. Do someone else’s 25 minute task once a day and you’re burning over two hours of your time a week.

  2. You’re preventing the other person from doing their job and creating confusion about what work they should be doing. You can’t do someone else’s work sometimes, and then expect them to take responsibility for the same work at other times. This is how things fall through the cracks.

  3. Systems and workflows eventually break down and your team becomes inefficient when you don’t follow the rules everyone has agreed to.

To recap: understand the job descriptions of others, be disciplined in delegating, and put to good use the two hours of additional time you just created in your week. 

Honest Abe, Sharp Axes, and 5 Ways for Attorneys to Improve Time Management

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Abraham Lincoln

This quote rings true because it’s a reminder that we can better manage our time and execute our work if we become disciplined in the way we plan and prepare.

How often are we quick to run headfirst into a project without taking the time up front to think about what the project entails, or be strategic about how we approach it? There’s any number of reasons why we don’t spend the time planning: we don’t find it valuable, we feel the urge to just “start” right away, or we don’t think we actually have the time to plan.

If you want to improve the way you manage your practice, here's what you need to do first: Adjust your mindset when it comes to planning. Before you rush into your next project, be intentional about spending time up front to map it out. Acknowledge that even a little bit of planning up front can save you massive amounts of time later.

Here are a five aspects of planning to focus on:

  1. Timeline. How long do I estimate this will take?

  2. People. Who else do I need from our team to help me complete this project? Is there anyone else I need to loop into this project NOW, or is there something I can get someone started on NOW that will save me time later?

  3. Resources. What resources will I need to complete the project, and do I have all of those things at my fingertips–or do I need to track them down?

  4. Clients. Do I need anything from my client and would it make sense for me to contact them NOW to get that process started (so that I’m not rushing around later and asking for things on short timelines, which leads to poor client service)?

  5. Anticipating Problems. Are there any roadblocks or issues we run into with this kind of project, and is there anything I can do NOW to prevent them? Will this work conflict with other work I’m doing and I do need to alert anyone else on my team to set expectations?

THE TAKEAWAY: be intentional about sharpening your axe before you get to work.