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Ready, Set. Scale

Mastering Delegation in Legal Work: 7 Tips to Scale Your Practice

By David Skinner and Karen Skinner

In their series “Ready, Set, Scale: How to Set Up the Systems You Need to Grow,” Karen and David Skinner help you prepare your practice for the growth you want. To grow your business without burning out, you need to start delegating legal work. 

delegating legal work

Pop Quiz!

What’s the biggest waste of time and money in most law practices?

  • (a) Time you spend waiting for stuff
  • (b) Correcting errors and redrafting
  • (c) All the emails you have to wade through every day
  • (d) Hours you spend in useless meetings

Answer: None of the above (although those are pretty annoying too)!

The biggest source of waste in law practices is the wrong people doing the work.

In a small or solo practice, the “wrong person” is usually you … and it’s one of the biggest hurdles you’ll face when you scale your law firm business.

In previous articles in our “Ready, Set, Scale” series, we talked about how you can create the foundations for growth. The systems. The processes. The best technology.

Now you’re ready to take the next big step toward scaling your practice: delegating legal work.

We can hear you now, with all the reasons you can’t delegate:

  • I don’t have time to train someone.
  • I don’t have the money to hire anybody.
  • I don’t have enough work.
  • It’ll be faster to do it myself.
  • It only takes 30 seconds …

We’ve heard them all. But delegation is the key to unlocking the potential in your law firm business.

1. Identify and categorize your tasks

Grab a stack of sticky notes and, for the next week, make a note for every task you do. Stick them up on a blank space on your wall. Then separate your tasks into four categories:

  1. Tasks requiring your expertise or legal qualifications
  2. Tasks someone else could do, and you dislike
  3. Tasks someone else could do, but you enjoy
  4. Tasks you should stop doing altogether

You’ll have to keep doing the things in the first category, and over time you’ll want to stop doing all the things in category four. That leaves categories two and three. Those are the things you’re going to delegate.

2. Start delegating the tasks you dislike the most

Always start by delegating the tasks in category two: the things you really dislike doing. You know your instinct is going to be to take back a task the first time someone makes a mistake. You’ll be less likely to do that if it’s something you hate!

3. Change your mindset about time

How many times have you said, “It’ll be faster to do it myself”? Investing time in training is not a waste. If you’ve been following along with our series, you’ll already have some standard operating procedures, or SOPs, in place. Once you’ve taught someone to follow your SOP or use your system, you’ll never have to do that task again. Yes, the training will take time once or twice … but you’ll save time in perpetuity.

4. Delegate to freelance lawyers

As you start to scale, you may have more work than you can handle before you’re ready to hire a full-time associate. Consider delegating legal work to freelance lawyers, also known as surge attorneys. Freelance lawyers can step in to handle specific legal projects, court appearances, document review and legal research. They can follow your SOPs and use your systems, making the execution of the work seamless. Just make sure you are adding a little markup on their fees — you’re not running a temp agency!

5. Delegate to technology

The right person for the job may not be a person at all. Automate as many tasks as you can. Most practice management platforms have automations that can send emails, schedule appointments, create documents, and move information between systems to minimize data entry tasks. Take advantage of all these automation features.

Some research and writing tasks can be delegated, at least partially, to AI technology like ChatGPT. Use AI to create tone-appropriate responses to letters and emails, summarize meeting notes, simplify complex concepts, translate content and compile FAQs. It’s a valuable, time-saving tool, but remember to verify and customize its output to ensure accuracy and alignment with your firm’s style.

6. Do the math

When you start to scale, you may think you can’t afford to hire someone to take over the administrative work. But surveys show that most small firm and solo lawyers spend up to five hours a day on their unbillable work. So let’s do the math.

Multiply your hourly rate by the number of hours you spend on unbillable work every day. That’s how much money you’re leaving on the table when you do your own admin work. Why? Because you can definitely find someone to do that work for a lot less than your hourly rate (and probably faster, too).

7. Hire before you’re ready

When you’re ready to scale your business, you’ll face the classic chicken-and-egg dilemma. You want to wait until you’re sure you’ve got enough revenue or work before you bring in someone new. But deep down, you know you’ll never generate enough revenue or bring in steady work if you keep doing it all yourself.

The thing is, you don’t have to start with a full-time employee. Hire someone for a few hours a week. Start them on a discrete set of tasks. Delegating legal work to a part-time person will give you back hours to develop new business or focus on revenue-generating work.

For example, one of our coaching clients brought in an assistant for five hours a week to handle tasks related to intake. Almost immediately, she saw the impact. A process that was taking 1.5 hours now took her only 15 minutes, and her revenue increased far more than enough to cover the cost of her assistant.

Delegation Is the Key to Scaling Your Business

Most lawyers only bill for about 30% of their workday. The rest of the day is filled with admin and all those little things that “just take 30 seconds.” But those “30 seconds” add up quickly and prevent you from effectively scaling your law firm business. To grow your business without burning out, you need to start delegating. 

Use these seven tips to identify and prioritize tasks to delegate; hire before you’re ready and empower your team with SOPs, automations and technology; and leverage freelance lawyers and AI.

People who delegate effectively can generate 20% to 50% more revenue than people who do it all themselves. If you want to master this critical business-building skill and get resource guides and a checklist for onboarding new employees, check out Delegation Express.

Start delegating now and unlock the potential of your practice!

Read the “Ready, Set, Scale” series:

“Preparing Your Firm for Growth, Even When You’re Busy”

Add More SOPs Before You Add More People”

“No More Shiny Butterflies: How to Choose the Best Technology for Your Law Firm”

Karen Dunn Skinner and David Skinner help lawyers and legal professionals build more efficient, productive and profitable practices. They’re the co-founders of Gimbal Lean Practice Management Advisors and lawyers with over 20 years’ experience each in Canada and Europe. Together, they’re the exclusive Global Advisors on Legal Process Improvement to the International Institute of Legal Project Management. They write and speak regularly, facilitate legal process improvement projects across North America, and have taught Gimbal’s LeanLegal® approach to thousands of legal professionals.

Image © iStockPhoto.com.

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