We surely all have heard the trite question, “You know why you should never assume…?”
It’s an irritating expression and is often stated by a snarky busybody who enjoys pointing out mistakes. Nonetheless, it’s good to be aware of subtle assumptions that creep into business conversations, particularly ones involving delegation.
Realizing the misunderstandings that assumptions can cause – or worse, receiving work incorrectly completed by law firm staff – is frustrating, a time-waster, and can cause your team to feel like they’re being gaslit. So, if you continue to receive work that’s off the mark or have been told you aren’t great at delegating, take a look at the nine tips below.
Assumption #1: This task only took me 15 minutes, but it took the new paralegal 90 minutes!
It takes time for new hires to get up to speed. Please don’t compare the time it would take you to complete a project when someone new is doing it in their first 90 days with you. As they get more experience, your paralegal will likely speed up. But they are learning something new and taking extra time to avoid mistakes, so don’t hold that against them.
Assumption #2: My paralegal just doesn’t get it. I have to repeat instructions twice.
Attorneys are smart. You may even be the most intelligent person in most rooms – perhaps even attended Yale undergrad & Harvard Law school. While the average paralegal probably has above-average intelligence, their background might not consist of Ivy League colleges, nor do they have IQs in the Mensa range. Remembering this about yourself and allowing some grace – like repeating instructions twice – is in your best interest. You will get the work product you envisioned and a paralegal with longevity.
Assumption #3: I rarely need our scheduled 1:1 meetings, so I’m going to cancel on my paralegal (again) and focus on billable time instead.
A great paralegal-lawyer relationship is a partnership. Consider treating your paralegal as such rather than treating them as an assistant. You will build trust with your paralegal showing that you value their opinion. This will increase the chances of them wanting to stay in the position and help you grow your practice and overall success.
Assumption #4: You need to answer every one of the support staff’s questions.
It can be hard to onboard someone new when you feel like you’re being peppered with questions constantly. When the paralegal is onboarding, encourage them to “batch” their questions for your review once per day. This ensures you aren’t constantly being interrupted and still allows them to have your undivided attention at a scheduled time.
Assumption #5: Shared priorities are a given.
What you find most important in the day-to-day work or the work product itself is not necessarily the same as others on your team.
Assuming that everyone comes to the table with shared priorities is a big mistake because not everyone works and thinks as you do. This comes up most frequently when an attorney is very high level and expects a paralegal or a virtual assistant to strategize and deliver in the same way.
Set expectations early. For example, if you’re detail-oriented, make sure you document how this shows up in your work and the work you expect from your paralegal. Discuss the most difficult things for you and your most critical priorities. Perhaps you want to be kept in the loop on open files, but your paralegal might not know that unless you tell them. It’s unfair to expect that they’ll automatically know it all!
Finally, be realistic. If you’ve been practicing law for 20 years with specific procedures and tools to help you do it, you can’t expect your paralegal to have it all down in a week. Create a gradual training program that introduces them to the best ways to work with you rather than dumping too much information on them at once. You can still have high expectations for their work product, too.
Assumption #6: No news is good news.
Feedback is a must. Don’t stay quiet when there’s an opportunity to give good feedback. Encourage questions and foster an environment where comments are welcome, especially where there’s a learning curve.
Assumption #7: I’ll just do this myself because my paralegal would hate doing this.
Your paralegal is there to support you. It’s good to ask what they do and don’t like doing during the interview process, but don’t be afraid of delegating once they’re on board. As you build trust with your new team members, continue to pass on more tasks.
Assumption #8: That your descriptors create the same image or understanding for your staff.
You have probably used the same terms and explanations for years, but that doesn’t mean your new staff understands them. Make sure to get on the same page with descriptive words like “qualified employees,” “by the end of the day,” “quickly,” and “time-sensitive.”
When everyone is clear on expectations, it’s easier to avoid conflicts and mishaps.
Assumption #9: Delegating for the task vs. for the end goal.
As you bring your team members up to speed on how to function effectively in your office, don’t make the mistake of looking only at the result of the task. Each task fits into a more significant project. The sooner you can get your team in touch with the end results and how their work impacts them, the better.
Now that you know how to set great expectations, you’ll be able to bring in better long-term staff and build a great place to work!