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Free Up – Learn to Delegate

Almost 90% of law firms in Malaysia are small firms of one to five lawyers. It is no surprise that lawyers falling under this category spend the vast majority of their time working. This leaves them with hardly any time for themselves let alone for their family.
 
LawTalk[1], in its article “Is being a lawyer a health hazard?” revealed that lawyers and judges in the United States are in an occupation where they will most likely to gain weight. They based this revelation on a survey carried out by Harris Interactive, an expert market research agency in the US, on  5,772 workers across a range of industries whether they had gained weight in their current job. The result - legal profession comes up second to travel agents, followed by social workers and teachers in the third place. This might be good news for those who want to gain weight otherwise it’s a health hazard!
 
According to the same survey, 54% of workers who gained weight said it was because they sat at their desk most of the day. Further, 56% said they even ate their lunch at their desk, while 37% of them said that they ate because of stress. Unfortunately, we have no such data available in Malaysia. It will be very interesting to find out.
 
Today, clients are more demanding. So are your professional obligations. Your to-do list gets longer by the day. Court dates and meetings fill your calendar six months in advance. This forces you to spend almost all your time behind the desk. There are just too many things to do and too little time. You constantly feel stressed and overwhelmed. Even superman will find it a challenge to keep up. 
As a result, a work-life balance will be difficult and almost impossible to maintain. You will be constantly thinking of your next file or overdue fees your client has yet to pay. Over time, this all leads to one thing. A burnout.
 
Signs of A Burnout Lawyer
 
Symptoms of a burnout are, amongst others:-
  • becoming more irritable or impatient with your colleagues staff or clients;
  • you drag yourself to work every day;
  • constantly feeling lethargic;
  • having trouble sleeping and experiencing headaches often.
 
All these will affect your relationship with family and friends. Therefore, if you don't tackle these issues early on, things may go pear-shaped or sometimes costs lives. One way to tackle this issue is by learning to master the art of delegation. While you may think you can handle it all, having an extra pair of helping hands will not hurt.
 
It is understandable that as a sole proprietor or by being a partner in a small firm, keeping overheads down is of utmost importance. You want to keep your cost low so you can maximize your profit. However, look at the benefit it has on your health. Only you hold the answer to this question. Like the old saying goes “If it is important to you, you will find a way. If not, you will find an excuse.
 
Excuses! Excuses! Excuses!
 
The excuse often given by lawyers for not delegating is that they are busy. Hence, they don’t have the time and patience to train their team. When it comes to drafting, some lawyers rather draft it themselves than delegating it to their juniors in fear of having to re-draft their work later. Another common excuse against delegating is that it is more time consuming. Some are afraid to delegate because they are worried of losing control – or fearing that they cannot instantly update a client when queried. Remember, when delegating, you are not abandoning responsibility.
 
How to Delegate
 
The art of effective delegating is very simple.
 
  1. Learn to Trust
Just like when your master trusted you in your early years of practice you need to do the same. Remember! How your master takes time off his busy schedule to correct your mistakes.  Remember! all the scolding and late nights you stayed back to complete your work. You can't deny all these were your foundation to be a successful lawyer.  Therefore, it takes someone to trust you to delegate work to you. This has moulded you to be what you are today.  It is the same now with your juniors or staff. You need to trust them with work. Delegating routine work will also ease your burden. It will free up your time that can be used on more meaningful work. Your clerk or staff whom you delegate the work to will now learn the job and eventually become good at it.
 
So trust your colleagues and staff by delegating work to them. It empowers and develops them. It teaches them to be responsible over work they do.
 
  1. Give Clear Instruction
When delegating, give clear instructions. Explain in simple language. Ensure that those you delegate to understand both the task given and expected outcome. Do not assume that your juniors or staff automatically understands you. Once you are able to gauge their capability to receive and understand instructions, you can delegate effectively. As a result, you get quality work instead of correcting their mistakes in work. 
 
  1. Give necessary authority
When delegating, do not micromanage the task. Give your staff the necessary authority to execute the job. Be a mentor, not a dictator. Let your team come up with ideas and suggestions. This will encourage their creativity and confidence in carrying out the task. Withholding authority from your juniors and staff will only make the task more difficult for them to carry out. If this continues, they will become frustrated and resentful.
 
Just like how your master eventually trusted you and gave you the authority to manage files on your own, it is time you do the same.  This will help your team develop their professional skills, knowledge and abilities. Eventually, they will become more confident and be able to work independently without having to wait for your instructions all the time.
 
  1. Monitor Progress
For those worried about losing control, monitoring the progress of the assigned task will help elevate your fears. Periodical monitoring is necessary not only as a risk management measure, but to ensure your staff completes the assigned task on time. Similarly, it also enables you to correct errors and spot mistakes as the task progresses. Over time, your staff will gain expertise over their delegated task and need less supervision.
 
When you first try to delegate, it is natural for you to feel like it is an added burden. You might find it time consuming to delegate and monitor your colleagues and staff. However, as the saying goes "practice makes perfect", it will eventually become easier. When that happens, it will ease up your time by taking away the routine task. This will help you focus on other tasks and give you some breathing space. Such practice will go a long way in improving your work life balance.
 
 
[1] Is being a lawyer a health hazard. (August 2013), LawTalk, [online] (809). Available at: https://www.lawsociety.org.nz/lawtalk/lawtalk-archives/issue-809/is-being-a-lawyer-a-health-hazard [Accessed 28 Aug. 2018].