Revisiting Smart Delegation

mg1ysmkWhen we last discussed the subject of delegation, I shared tips for supervising lawyers and associates. That advice was fine as far as it went, but it left a gaping hole: how can we best utilize support staff? Being S-M-A-R-T is the best answer I’ve found to date.

S-M-A-R-T is shorthand for delegating tasks that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

The idea comes from Associate’s Mind, and the simplicity is genius.

The original post gives this additional advice:

Define the task. The more specific the better. Don’t attempt to delegate some open-ended assignment and then get upset with what you get back.
Assess ability. Who on your staff is capable of completing the task? Certain tasks are likely better suited to paralegals, while others are better suited to assistants. You need to take the time to learn who can do what. Once you’ve done that, you can select the right individual for the job.
Explain the reasons behind the task and why they were chosen.  This only applies if it’s a new, or novel task.
State required results.  Again, think specificity NOT “Tell me about the local rules in Court X.” Instead: “Please draft a memo on the local rules in Court X regarding discovery deadlines and how they apply to case Y.”
Agreed upon deadline. Don’t just assign a task and not give a deadline. Otherwise, the person you’re delegating the task to has no clue how urgent it is.
Support and communicate through the process if they need further information or assistance. Sometimes there are speed bumps in the process. This is to be expected, especially if it’s a novel task. You need to be available to give assistance if they stumble.
Provide feedback on results.  If the work product that is returned to you is sub-par, they need to know. On the flipside, if the work product is exactly what you needed and delivered on time, they deserve positive feedback as well.

My two cents?

If a task is complex or time-consuming, make regular progress reports part of the delegated assignment.  This will keep you informed and ease your mind about the status of the work.  Encourage staff to ask questions and use this opportunity to ferret out problems.

When giving feedback, be constructive.  Simply telling staff that work product is “sub-par,” doesn’t help you or them.  In fact, statistics show that people who receive feedback only apply it about 30% of the time.  If you want to improve those odds, follow these tips:

  • Assess what went wrong and consider your role – maybe you used the S-M-A-R-T method and maybe you didn’t….
  • Focus on the task, not the person. This is a training opportunity!
  • Is your quarrel with the method or the result?  If the result is desirable, but you would have done it differently, try not to be a nitpicker unless you have a good reason to be.
  • Be specific about what needs to be done differently and provide context.
  • Deliver the feedback as soon as possible.

All Rights Reserved (2017) Beverly Michaelis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Succeed in Practice

Succeeding in practice requires momentum, courage, and hard work.  No one knows
that better than a solo practitioner or small firm lawyer.Motivation1

Whether you’re starting out, retooling, or want to make a change, consider this sage advice from Ann Guinn, one of the presenters at the Oregon State Bar Solo & Small Firm Conference.  She may just motivate you to get moving!

All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis

Postscript

For related content with a greater focus on the financial side of practice see this post on Storify.

 

Getting a Grip on Digital Distraction

Last week I promised to continue sharing the “best of” tips from the inaugural Oregon State Bar Solo & Small Firm Conference. Today I’m featuring Paul J. Unger of Affinity Consulting who gave practical, easy-to-implement advice on how to tame the digital chaos.

A complete list of Paul’s tips can be found here.  A few of the best gems appear below:

Look for more content from the inaugural Solo & Small Firm Conference in future posts.

All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis

 

The Best of TECHSHOW – Tips and Tricks

Every year the ABA TECHSHOW brings together some of the best legal technology minds our profession has to offer.  This year was no exception.  Over the next few posts I’ll share what I learned at this year’s conference.  Today: the best of 60 Tips in 60 Minutes.

Microsoft Office

Office Ribbon getting in the way? 

Use Ctrl F1 to toggle it off (and on).

View recently opened documents in Word with a quick right click

Want to see the most recently opened items in Word?  Right click on the Word icon on your desktop.  A list of recently opened items appears (whether Word is launched or not.)

Recover unsaved Word 2010/2013 documents or Excel 2010/2013 Workbooks

If your computer crashes and you haven’t saved your document or spreadsheet, act fast to recover your document. In Word or Excel 2010/2013, select File > Info > Manage Versions to recover your unsaved documents.

Print a blank Outlook calendar

A blank Outlook calendar can be handy for coordinating with others, but how can you print one that doesn’t show scheduled court dates, client appointments, or other events?  Easy!  The steps vary according to your version of Outlook.  Here are links to the instructions: Outlook 2007, Outlook 2010, Outlook 2013.

imagesReveal a sender’s full e-mail address

Sometimes e-mail messages only show the sender’s name.  If you want to see the full e-mail address, follow these steps:  In the blue message header, mouse over the name, right click, choose properties > show full e-mail address.

Need a system to follow-up on sent e-mails? 

Here are two approaches.

Option 1 – Create a “Waiting For” folder in Outlook

Drag e-mails that require a follow-up to this destination. If desired, add a “code” to the body of your message like “wff” (Waiting For Folder).  Create an Outlook rule that looks for this code and auto-files the messages that contain it in the Waiting For Folder.

Option 2 – The cc: method

Set up a “Delegated Mail” folder in Outlook.  Copy yourself on all e-mails that require a follow-up.  Create an Outlook rule that checks messages when they arrive, looks for your name as the sender and for your name in the cc: box.  Direct the rule to file messages that meet this criteria in a “Delegated Mail” folder.

Eliminate long, redundant e-mail threads

In Outlook 2010/2013, delete redundant e-mail strings by using “Clean Up a Conversation.”  The clean up function removes the prior e-mails and keeps only the most recent message – which has the entire thread.

How about a handy shortcut to an e-mail address? 

Create one right on your desktop.  Right click, select New > Shortcut.  In the “Create Shortcut” dialog box, type mailto: and the desired e-mail address. For example: mailto:joesmith@gmail.com (leave no spaces between the colon and the e-mail address). Click Finish.  You can now send an e-mail to Joe directly from your desktop without launching Outlook.

Never forget an attachment again

Download CodeTwo and never forget an e-mail attachment again.  This free download looks for keywords in the body of your e-mail like “enclosed” and “attached” and reminds you to add an attachment before your e-mail is sent.

Bloated e-mail inbox?

Clean it up with Outlook’s cleanup tools.  Choose File > Info > Cleanup Tools.  Choose Mailbox Cleanup… to manage the size of your mailbox with advanced tools, empty deleted items permanently, or move old items to an archive folder.

Disabling “reply to all” or “forwarding”

To prevent clients from forwarding e-mails or using “reply to all” inappropriately use this workaround to disable the functionality.  Yes, a persistent user can still “copy and paste” the body of your e-mail into a new message, but disabling forwarding or “reply to all” tends to stop 99% of perpetrators.

Work with clients or collaborate with colleagues in a different time zone?

Follow these easy steps to add a second time zone to your calendar in Outlook.

Open Your Mail and Calendar in Separate Windows

It can be annoying to toggle back and forth between your mail and other components of Outlook.  From anywhere in Outlook’s Navigation pane (Inbox, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, Notes) right click on the second Outlook item you wish to view and choose “Open in new window.”

Security and Privacy

Looking for a secure flash drive?

Here are three good options: Imation Defender F200 Biometric, Aegis Secure Key, CMS Secure Vault FIPS.

Computer Screen Privacy

Keep prying eyes off your computer screen with PrivateEye from Oculis. Using facial recognition, the software instantly blurs your monitor if you leave your desk or turn away.

Wish you could monitor your servers remotely?

lockYou can with PC Monitor.  Compatible with iPad, iPhone, iPod. Free for non-commercial use.

Secure external hard drives

Just as flash drives should be encrypted or protected with biometrics, lawyers should take similar precautions to secure external hard drives.  Here are three choices:   Lenovo ThinkPad USB 3.0 Secure Hard Drive, Aegis Padlock, CMS Secure Disk Vault.

That Pesky Facebook

If you love connecting with friends and family on Facebook, but are worried about who might have access to your data, check out MyPermissions. Sign up to receive alerts when a Facebook app gains access to your personal information.

Productivity

Addicted to multiple monitors and wish you had one for the road?

You can with the portable Lenovo ThinkVision LT1421 14″ widescreen LED travel monitor.  Available on Amazon for under $200.

Looking for a fast, simple solution for installing apps on your new computer?

Try Ninite – directly download the most commonly used Web apps with no muss, no fuss.

proMeet the new scanner on the block

Everyone knows about the Fujitsu Scansnap s1500, but meet the new and improved kid on the block:  the Fujitsu Scansnap iX500. Bundled with Adobe Acrobat Standard, supports scanning to iOS and Android devices, improved resolution, and improved paper handling.  A work horse for under $500.  Ideal for most solos or as a supplementary scanner deployed at workstations throughout your office.

Stop carpal tunnel in its tracks

To avoid carpal tunnel, your keyboard must be appropriately positioned for your use. 3M offers quality keyboard trays that do the trick for around $160.

Why is your fillable form blank?

To “lock in” the contents of a fillable form, you must flatten the PDF.  Here’s how in Acrobat 9.  In Acrobat X or later, use an action.

Tip Grab Bag

Shopping for the best cloud service to backup your data?imagesCAVCNTYX

Visit Backup Review or follow the site on Twitter @backupreview – new reviews daily.

Splash happens.  Want to waterproof your iPhone?

Not a bad idea since water damage voids the warranty.  Try Liquipel.

Are you on LinkedIn

Did you know that you can reposition the components of your LinkedIn profile to feature preferred content? By default, Experience, Skills & Expertise, and Education appear “below the fold” after Activity and Background.  If you prefer a different sort order, simply drag and drop.

Many thanks to the 60 Tips in 60 Minutes presenters for all these great ideas

All Rights Reserved – Beverly Michaelis – 2013

Six Mistakes Lawyers Make with Staff, Part I

In my career as a legal recruiter and law practice management advisor, I have witnessed some regrettable decisions involving staff.  I’m not referring to hiring, evaluating, or terminating employees.  I’m talking about day-to-day choices made by lawyers – those decisions that seem reasonable at the time, but have a way of coming back to bite you.  Here are four of the top six:

Lawyer as Controller

The lawyer who hires staff, but refuses to delegate any real responsibility always mystifies me.  You and your staff are a team.  Clients expect you to spend their money well.  This includes proper utilization of legal staff.  If you’re not sure where to start, please visit the blog of Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor, where you will find marvelous posts, including:

Vicki is one of my favorite paralegal bloggers.  You can follow her on Twitter @VickiVoisin.

Another source of spot-on advice is Lynne DeVenny who blogs at Practical Paralegalism.  Check out these posts:

Lynne’s blog is worth viewing for her excellent content, terrific sense of humor, and helpful links.  You can follow Lynne on Twitter @ExpertParalegal.

“I Don’t Have Time to Train”

Is it me, or is it just a bit ironic that busy lawyers who need help are “too busy” to train?  Training is time consuming – at first.  The payoff comes after the training when your secretary or paralegal takes over a task and runs with it. 

You can make the process of training much easier by creating and maintaining an office procedures manual.  Sound daunting?  It would be if you attempted to write the manual from beginning to end in one sitting.  Use the “step at a time” approach instead.  If you anticipate hiring staff soon, start your manual now.  Include copies of your client intake form, file closing checklist, fee agreements, and other common office forms.  Document procedures as you perform them.  If you learn how to restore a file from backup or change the ink in the postage meter, write down the steps.  (Even if you never hire staff, having an office manual will help you remember how to do tasks that you don’t perform often.)  If you already have staff, ask them to gather office forms and take a stab at documenting procedures.  Review their submissions and make any necessary corrections.  (Be sure to explain why you corrected the procedure – this is another opportunity to train!)  A sample Procedure Manual is available at no charge on the PLF Web site.  Select Practice Aids and Forms, then Office Manuals.

Staff Don’t Need CLEs (Do They?)

Absolutely!  Many a legal secretary or paralegal has trained a law firm associate.  If you truly want to build a crack legal team, support continuing legal education for staff.  CLEs are just one of the ways staff can improve their knowledge and help you get the job done.  In many cases, bar associations and legal organizations allow staff to attend CLEs at a reduced cost. 

Networking Isn’t Just for Lawyers

Encourage staff to belong to professional organizations like NALS: The Association for Legal Professionals, the National Association of Legal Assistants, and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.  These organizations and their chapters offer annual conferences, monthly CLEs, webinars, legal publications, professional certifications, vendor directories, membership discounts, and networking opportunities galore.  NALS: The Association for Legal Professionals is particularly active on social networking sites.  The official NALS group on LinkedIn has over 1,900 members.

Professional organizations and CLE boost your staff’s competence, expertise, and effectiveness.  When you support professional certification, membership in a professional organization, or CLE, you enhance your staff member’s curriculum vitae.  Enhanced credentials greatly improve the client’s odds of recovering paralegal fees in actions where attorney fee awards are available.  It’s a winning proposition for everyone.

Copyright 2011 Beverly Michaelis