The Art of Delegation – Working to the Greatest Level of Efficiency
Delegation, a necessity in any line of work, comes quite naturally to some (and not so naturally to others). It is integral to a smooth-running workforce, and a process that enables maximum efficiency within a firm.
The art of delegation is of particular importance when certain aspects of a process require the attention of someone with a very specific set of skills, whilst other parts can be done by someone with less experience. Never, it is fair to say, is this more relevant than when the time comes to ‘invoice’ for said task.
Ian Moxon, an experienced delegator and highly regarded Costs Lawyer, joined PIC in 1997 with a very clear brief; minimise costs and maximise profits for both the firm’s clients, and the firm itself.
Over the years he has dealt with a plethora of high value claims – from personal injury and clinical negligence, to commercial cases, group actions and Court of Appeal costs claims – and, as one would expect, taken every opportunity to perfect the art of delegation.
Here, Ian talks to us about why this particular skill is of such importance in his line of work, and offers some thoughts on how to minimise inefficiencies in the delegation process.
Ian Moxon – Costs Lawyer, PIC
Everyone reading this will agree, or ought to agree, that there is no point whatsoever in building up a huge work in progress (WIP) total, but only being able to recover a fraction of it. Indeed, an unrealistic WIP figure on your firm’s computer time record will often mean that inaccurate costs information is then conveyed to others such as your client, the Partners of the firm and the Bank Manager.
At PIC I’m in the privileged position of having worked on files from many different firms of Claimant Solicitors. Whilst every firm has its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to costs recovery I think it’s fair to say that whereas some are brilliant at delegating tasks (up and down the ladder of expertise) others are, frankly, terrible. So how do the most efficient fee earners and firms go about delegating work?
It’s easier for me to explain what not to do first. Simply put, duplication of effort is bad. Duplicated time spent is not recoverable between the parties, and no costs saving will be achieved by doing that. In fact, costs will tend to be more than they would have been if the conducting fee earner had simply done the work themselves (See, for example, Higgs v Camden & Islington Health Authority).
Duplication occurs in two forms. Firstly, if the conducting fee earner is constantly checking the delegated fee earner’s work there will be no saving in time or costs. Secondly, if the delegated fee earner spends forever familiarising themselves with the file, that duplication will not be recoverable and costs will not be saved.
There is also absolutely no benefit in delegating very minor tasks either, because the costs of instructing the junior fee earner and then checking their work will outweigh any costs savings, and there is also no point in delegating work down between just one grade of fee earner, as the difference in hourly rates will not be enough to counter the costs of instructing and checking the lower grade fee earner’s work.
So, now we’ve looked at the ‘what not to do’, how do we go about successfully delegating work to others with less expertise? Let’s take, by way of an example, a clinical negligence claim. The job of initially obtaining and collating the medical records can, and often should, be delegated down the ladder of expertise.
That work is often quite straightforward and can efficiently be done at most firms by a Grade C equivalent fee earner, or even a competent grade D in some instances. The key word here is “efficiently”.
At some firms their successful team approach involves little more than a brief Memo from the conducting senior fee earner to a more junior fee earner asking them to obtain the medical records and form the indexed and paginated bundle etc. At those firms, their junior fee earners have done that same work many times, and no supervision from the conducting fee earner is required (avoiding any duplication and allowing the conducting fee earner’s resources to be deployed onto higher paying tasks). The trick is to delegate the work to a junior fee earner who will not require much, if any, supervision.
I have also seen many firms use such downward delegation effectively (to achieve overall costs savings) in the taking of Witness Statements, attending site inspections, attending conferences with Counsel (as a note taker) and attending trials (to marshal those attending on behalf of the Claimant and take notes).
Perhaps less simple is the process of delegating to others who sit a little further up the ladder of expertise. As I previously mentioned, valuable work can be kept within the firm by briefing someone with additional experience to take the charge. As explained, the most complex work, often delegated to external Counsel, tends to be the best paying work in terms of hourly rates. It is, therefore, better to keep that work (which you have spent time and money to source in the first place) within the firm, so that the firm reaps all the available rewards. There are firms PIC work for who do just that, and with great success!
Examples of tasks delegated up the ladder of expertise include preparing pleadings (drafting Particulars of Claim and Schedule of Expenses and Losses is Grade A fee earner work, even on a relatively straightforward claim), providing advice (on evidence, quantum, procedure, conduct or tactics etc), dealing with appeals and advocacy.
The passing on of such work tends to be more efficient than preparing Instructions to external Counsel because time is not required, for example, collating a bundle of papers (you already have the file there in your offices). You also have the advantage of working in the next room if you want to discuss the case.
The opportunity to take up such an approach involving the team such as this is, ultimately, the responsibility of the Partners within the firm. Taking into consideration how the major resource of the firm – its staff – are deployed can have a massive impact on the overall profitability of the firm.
It is key, in the process of delegation, to remember that the more efficiently a file is progressed, the better the costs recovery will be at the end. Working as a team to do so can not only be time effective but also a rewarding experience to work with every corner of the organisation to achieve success.
On hand to discuss all aspects of case efficiency and cost saving Ian, who has experience preparing Bills of Costs from all types of proceedings, and with a variety of funding arrangements, can be contacted directly at email@example.com or on 03458 72 76 78 ext 251.