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Attn: Law firm Principals – Are your people ‘delegating’ to you?

Upwards delegation is a major issue in professional services firms, particularly in the legal profession.

What is upwards delegation, you ask?

Upwards delegation occurs when practitioners in a firm ‘delegate’ legal questions raised during a matter to their Principals when they’re not familiar with the issue or what direction they should take.

Does this sound familiar in your practice?….

“Dear Ben, [Client] just called me and asked if he should [insert summary of client’s question or issue]. How do you think we should respond?”

What has the staff member done here?

1. The have literally forwarded their Principal a problem.
2. They have offered no options or potential solutions.
3. They have delegated the issue…upwards.

This is an issue we see repeatedly across the profession and one that impacts Principals considerably in terms of time management and stress.

So, what can be done?

You need to create a culture that ensures staff can offer solutions without fear, not just forward you problems. Sometimes the options are farfetched, but in our view, at least they considered something even if it is not reasonable.

Taking the same issue, in a high-performing team, the practitioner involved would do this:

“Dear Ben, [Client] just called me and asked if he should [insert brief summary of client’s question or issue]. I have had a quick look at the issue and believe there are a few options here:

1. Option 1 – outline option and likelihood of success / risks
2. Option 2 – outline option and likelihood of success / risks
3. Option 3 – outline option and likelihood of success / risks

On review, I believe we should respond to the client recommending he should pursue option 2. I believe it is the safest course of action given [insert some commentary to support recommendation]. If you agree, I have prepared a draft response for your approval below.

[Insert draft response]

Please advise if you’re Ok for me to send.”

We advise the staff of our clients that their goal here is to have their Principal respond to similar proposals with one word: “Approved”, or “Agreed”, or “Send”, or “OK”. Simplify the Principal’s effort and output to just settle the work as opposed to ‘doing’ the work.

Similarly, we encourage Principals to return work to their team where they feel more investigation is warranted or if additional options need to be considered. Simply absorbing the work yourself is not a good outcome for you or your people. At the end of the day, you are assisting in your peoples’ development, not just managing your own time.

If upwards delegation is an issue in your firm, let us know. Eliminating it and empowering a team to advise you, rather than delegate to you will have a significant impact on your life. We have rolled out some great programs across our client base to minimise this issue resulting in significant changes for Principals.

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