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Fear of Delegation

Probably the toughest part of being a new lawyer is learning when and how to delegate. Like the business side of practicing law, this is one thing that law schools do not prepare you for. It can be even more difficult when you have been practicing law for about 5 minutes, and your paralegal has been there for 20 years or so. The problem is complicated because, in many cases, law school does not teach you to practice law, either. So, you depend on your paralegal to show you how to draft a subpoena, what discovery responses look like, etc…

When I was brand new, I remember holding a draft letter, petrified to take it to my paralegal for editing and “to put in final.” I was unsure of myself, unsure of our respective roles (should I be finalizing letters myself? Does she have better things to do than proofread my letters?), and unsure of the best uses of our time. I did a lot of second-guessing in those days. I would frequently be found making my own copies, and my senior partner would pass by and ask me what I was doing. I’d tell him, and he’d gently let me know that my paralegal should be doing that.

The majority of my hesitation was that I did not believe that I was above making copies. I rebelled against a perceived hierarchy—the senior lawyer on the top rung of the ladder, followed by the associate lawyer, the paralegal, and the secretary. Fueling the fire was my knowledge that, as a new lawyer, I had no idea what I was doing, and probably belonged on the bottom rung.

It took a long time for me to readjust my thinking, but it was an important step in my development. Law firms are not (rather, they should not) be about hierarchy. No one is above anyone else, and everyone should be treated as equals. However, some degree of classification is important—people are hired for specific jobs, and there is nothing wrong with fulfilling those job requirements.

My partner would always tell me that he needed me to work on other things (drafting motions and discovery, talking with experts, etc.), and copying and scheduling is a job someone else was hired for. It’s about efficiency—making sure everyone knows what they are supposed to do so it gets done faster and better. It is collaboration. Though, as the lawyer, your end responsibility is to make sure that the work gets done. If you need to be copying or making trial binders, then it ultimately falls on you (a good reason why you should delegate assignments well before their due date).

And, as far as not knowing what you are doing—you’ll get there. I tend to think of it like high school. If you are timid, you will be picked on. If you exude a little confidence, then no one will be the wiser.

One comment

  1. Great post! As a paralegal, I could not agree more with your view that law is a team profession. While no one position is inherently “better” than another, our roles are different. The most efficient law firm managers know how to utilize each role for maximum effect.

    I would suggest, though, that if you have both paralegals AND secretaries at your firm, it may be more efficient when possible to delegate a non-billable task like making copies to a secretary and to assign your paralegal substantive, and therefore billable, work.