Associate retention is a hot topic these days.
Sure, signing bonuses are a major draw enticing associates to their next firm, but every lateral move requires a decision: stick with the devil you know, or transition to the devil you don’t?
Midlevel and senior attorneys, what kind of devil are you?
I’m not talking in the literal sense—it should go without saying that you treat everyone in the office with respect. But how is your management style? Your delegating skills? Do associates working for you feel like part of your team or an afterthought?
Associate happiness is key to associate retention, and devoting time in your day to on-the-ground training and mentoring of junior associates is one way to improve associate satisfaction in your office.
So, I’ll ask again: what kind of devil are you?
You may not know. A reality of law firm life is that it’s often the results and not the process that matters. Being a great team manager is frequently an undervalued skill, if not outright ignored when it comes to promotion and compensation decisions. But it can make or break an associate’s experience at your firm and impact whether you get amazing or lackluster work product from them.
I’m sharing some simple tips you can employ to improve your delegating and team-building skills. They don’t take much time but can truly increase associate morale and the level of work product you receive.
Delegating Tips for Lawyers
Focus on team building by getting your junior team members invested in your overall strategy, even if they are only working on a tiny piece of it. You can do this by looping them into emails/meetings as often as possible and by always explaining the context of their assignments and how their work is helping you meet your client’s goals. This means that for complex assignments, you should set aside time for a meeting or call rather than just dashing off a quick email.
Say thank you and acknowledge when a situation sucks, like working super late or all weekend. Yes, it’s the job, but it still sucks sometimes!
Assign work thoughtfully. Ask what kind of work the junior members of the team like to do and want to do more of and make an effort to get them those assignments (in addition to whatever else just has to be done).
Ask questions. When you give a junior an assignment, ask if they’ve done this before. If they say yes, explain how you like it done. If not, explain how to do it, and always refer them to samples and templates so they can see exactly what you want in the final product.
Set clear expectations and explain them, not only in terms of assignment details but also in terms of deadlines. If you have set aside time on Thursday afternoon to review their memo to send it on to your client on Friday morning, let the junior associate drafting the memo know that so they better understand why the deadline matters.
Set interim deadlines and check in on their progress, especially if they are new to a task or new to working with you. This allows you to address issues as they come up, and they have a designated time to ask questions. (You should accept questions whenever, but some people are shy about asking for help because they fear looking dumb so a scheduled check-in meeting can help.)
Delegate at the beginning of a project. Before diving into a new substantive assignment, sit for a minute to think about what you can delegate and do it right away. You can delegate in pieces if the overall project is too overwhelming in scope. That’s a great way to build in interim deadlines—the junior team member checks in with you after completing task 1 and by that time you are ready to assign task 2.
Give credit for their work when discussing with higher-ups (e.g., thanks to X’s great research, we can make the following argument…) and give them opportunities to get in front of senior lawyers and clients.
Set up regular 1-1 meetings with junior team members to talk through ongoing projects and check in more broadly about how they are doing. Once a week is best, and 10-20 minutes is often all you need, especially once you have established a habit of regular check-ins and open communication.
Give feedback in the moment and set up feedback meetings to talk about complex assignments or areas where they are struggling. When giving feedback, skip the judgment and focus on clear things they can do better. If there was a problem, like a missed deadline, ask open questions letting them explain.
If you’re struggling to delegate or manage your team, consider signing up for my online courses Survive & Thrive (junior associates) and Managing As a Midlevel (midlevel associates) or a session of on demand lawyer coaching (all seniority levels).
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