Find out how to keep your productivity high when you have to rely on others to accomplish work in your law practice.

Mastering productivity is critical to the quality of your work and life – and it can be a serious challenge. This post wraps up a 3-part series designed to guide you through the fundamentals. We started the series with 5 Steps to Organize Projects and Increase Productivity in Your Law Practice. Then we covered How to Manage Obstacles to Productivity in Law Practice.

Most of the time, when working as a lawyer, you are on your own. Nobody else creates mistakes for you to notice and fix. There is no need for communication to divide up responsibilities and coordinate efforts. Every task and responsibility is yours. That works well until you can’t do everything yourself in the time available or if the project requires input from different people with different expertise and perspectives.

When you can’t do everything yourself, who will ask for help? What do you need others to do and by when? How should ask for help? Do they have appropriate resources? What direction should you provide? Managing other people is a leadership skill and like any skill, you need to learn what to do and then practice new behaviors until they become habit.

Managing projects and people requires strong communication and organization skills. Delegating tasks with clarity and specificity and sharing calendars with due dates are necessary, but not sufficient, to keep a project on schedule. When you must rely on others for their help, success depends on communication. You must be able to delegate with clarity and the person you are managing must understand your performance expectations. What are you asking someone to do for you? What does the deliverable look like at each version or stage of the project? When are deliverables due. Does the person have adequate resources (time, space, technology, and a budget)? How do you know the person understand the assignment as you intended?

When you find yourself responsible for assigning tasks to the people on your team, you must be able to explain exactly the outcome you expect each team member to produce. What should their work product look like as a first draft and a final product? When do you want to see the first draft? When is the final product due? How much time must be built-in for your review? If you are leading a team, clearly explain the team’s project and each person’s role and responsibilities to contribute to the successful and timely completion of the project.

In addition to delegating specific tasks, it’s your job as team leader to create a time-line so that the overall project is completed by the due date. This means that you must build in time for team collaboration and review of deliverables before the project is in a final state to pass off to your client, regardless of whether your client is a senior lawyer in your firm, organization, or the person paying your invoices. To do this effectively, use a calendar system with your team to schedule due dates for the project.

Imagine a project that you need help to complete and then answer the following questions:

  1. Describe the project.
  2. Identify one task to delegate to someone else? What is it?
  3. What skills and resources must the person have to complete the task?
  4. What would you say to delegate that task effectively to the person?
  5. If the project requires multiple team members to complete it on time, how would you decide roles and responsibilities?
  6. What will be your process to ensure each team member delivers their piece of the project on time and of an acceptable quality?

Clear direction at the start of the project is important. Giving effective feedback and hearing feedback effectively is crucial for creating a successful project. Feedback is a misunderstood concept. It makes people cringe because they often think it means giving criticism. Feedback is information. It is the reaction to any event. Giving good feedback to a person, who has been assigned a task to complete, means giving that person the information they need to deliver the task when you want it, in the form you want, and of the quality you want. Good feedback gives direction to the performance to continue effective behavior and discontinue ineffective behavior.

For example, if you tell your associate to draft a blog article on a topic of interest to your clients, you would expect the style of writing in your associate’s deliverable to be very different from the associate’s deliverable for a motion for summary judgment in a Wage and Hour case. If, in the former situation, you received a formal brief, what would you say to your associate to redirect their thinking and writing to a more informal format? Effective redirecting feedback is an explanation of what the person did and what you need the person to do in the future that to meet your expectations. You may need to trouble-shoot together to figure out what happened and how to fix the problem. If you receive a work-product that is exactly what you wanted, effective feedback would explain what the person did that should be repeated in the future. Reinforcing feedback is as important and redirecting feedback.

Think about how you would give someone performance feedback.

There is a four-step process to giving effective feedback.

  1. Evaluate the situation. What are the facts? What actually happened? What was right and wrong with the performance?
  2. Be curious about why the results were not as expected. Was there a miscommunication or misunderstanding? Or, is there a need for performance improvement?
  3. Provide feedback that identifies what you want the behavior or outcome to be in the future.
  4. Describe the impact on you of the behavior or outcomes you received from the person.

There are also tips for how to plan, think about, and phrase the feedback.

  • Deliver it as close in time to the event as possible.
  • Be clear, specific and constructive.
  • Focus on work product or behavior, not the individual.
  • Use “I” statements. You are asking for what you want.
  • Listen, check for understanding, clarify, paraphrase, summarize, ask for feedback on your feedback.
  • Treat feedback as a gift. Do not argue, but ask for examples of the position argued.
  • Review progress after feedback to evaluate its effectiveness

Planning feedback can make a difference in the outcome. Giving feedback is a skill and it will improve with practice. Assume you asked your associate to write a motion for summary judgment. Your associate delivered the motion a day late and with many mistakes.

  1. How do you feel as a result of the late delivery?
  2. How do you feel as a result of the many mistakes?
  3. Make a list of the type of problems that you can imagine might occur. What are they?
  4. Write a script of the feedback session, including setting, your dialogue, and what you could expect to hear in response.

Now, assume that you have a high level of emotional intelligence and your emotional awareness and ability to manage your emotions is extremely high. Consequently, when your associate delivered the motion a day late, with only a sense of curiosity in your voice, you asked why it was late. You discovered that there had been an unexpected death in the family. How would that have changed your answers to the four questions above? This simple exercise will help you realize the affect your emotional state has on your ability to give effective feedback, the types of mistakes that could occur, and your options for responding.