Supervision of Employees: The Buck Stops With You

Delegation involves getting the job done through others. A governing tenet in every firm should be to push work down to the lowest capable level. You are wasting your time and the client’smoney if you or others at your firmare consistently doingtasks that lawyers with a lower hourly rate or staff can complete. Lawyers typically fail to delegate for any number of reasons, none
of which stand up to scrutiny.

  • They don’t want to give up control of the matter or client: This is a bad behaviour often driven by a compensation system that rewards bad behaviours.
  • They think they can complete it better themselves: With proper training, someone else can likely do the job just as well.
  • They think they can complete it faster themselves: With proper training, someone else can likely do the job just as fast.
  • There is not enough time to properly train someone else to do the task: This excuse is often cited in conjunction with the previous point – and it may make sense in the rush to get an individual matter done. However, this ignores the longer-term benefits that once that person is trained, the task can be done much more quickly every time it is required in the future.
  • The work was not done properly the last time it was delegated: This was likely because there was insufficient training or instructions.

Better delegation

Carefully review your common tasks andmake an effort to identify which ones could be delegated. Then apply the following tenets of effective delegation:

  • Pick the right person for the task: Often the right person can do the work without training. However, don’t overlook an opportunity to challenge and engage someone who is willing and interested, and could do the task with training.
  • Don’t talk down to the delegatee: Treat staff members with respect and as equal members of the team.
  • Give clear instructions and all required information: Highlight specific issues of concern, but also paint the bigger picture so that staff members understand the reasons behind the work that they are doing.
  • Explain any special parameters: Are there resources to use or not to use, a sensitivity to high fees by the client, etc.?
  • Make deadlines realistic: An unrealistic deadline is unfair and frustrating to the person being assigned the task.
  • Establish the reporting mechanism: Do you expect the delegatee to simply return the completed work, or is the staff member to check in or provide updates as he or she works through the task?
  • Confirm instructions were understood: Ask the delegatee to reiterate the task requested.
  • Always provide feedback when the work is done: Don’t just complain when there are mistakes or problems. Say thank you every time, compliment and reward good work, and make sure any criticism is constructive criticism.
  • The commentary to subrule 5.01(2) of the Rules of Professional Conduct (in Ontario) further provides that the “lawyer is required to review the non-lawyer’s work at frequent intervals to ensure its proper and timely completion.” Extra care may be warranted if there is something different or unusual in the matter at hand. Consider if special training or courses could help increase the skills of staff, allowing them to take on more complex tasks.

    This was an excerpt from “Supervision of employees: The buck stops with you” from the December 2009 issue of LAWPRO Magazine.

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