Many attorneys do not delegate – instead, they abdicate. What I mean by this is that they choose to unload work on their paralegals without enough explanation. They do this not to undermine the paralegal, but typically, because they are pressed for time as we’ve mentioned in the first and second part of this series. Unfortunately, it is imperative that paralegals have all the information they need before they begin the task, so important work can be done quickly and efficiently.
When delegating a task, we suggest using the S. M. A. R. T. rules:
Specific: If there is a high level of trust and this is a frequently delegated task, you can be less specific in your instructions. But if this is the first time a task is delegated, and there is little experience or familiarity, you must be very specific about all the actions to be taken, possibly putting them into written form, depending on the complexity of the task.
Measurable: Establish exactly what you intend for the outcome. If possible, quantify the result. State it clearly and ask for it to be repeated back to check for accuracy. Say something like, “Tell me what you think I’m asking you do – just so I can check to see if you’ve heard me correctly.”
Accountable: Select someone who will take ownership of the project or task. Someone who will communicate results in a timely fashion and will not try to cover up if there’s a problem.
Realistic: Create checkpoints along the way to check the progress and quality of the work. Allow extra time for mistakes that are part of the initial learning curve – just make sure you have a way to catch them. Don’t delegate something that isn’t humanly possible to accomplish in a given time frame. Make sure you provide adequate resources to get the job done – if time is short, more assistance may be required.
Timeline: State very clearly the date for completion, any checkpoint dates, and the impact of not meeting the deadline. Remember that the FIRST time any task or project is undertaken, it will take longer to accomplish. Expect increased efficiency with repetition.
The S.M.A.R.T. format provides the attorney with a step-by-step guide for delegating tasks. When followed correctly, this easy format will yield two results: It will make the paralegal feel better prepared with the information needed to take on the task. And it will give the attorney more confidence in the paralegal’s ability to deliver the result. That’s a win for both parties.