Work Without You

Today we’re going to talk about work without you. The idea that you don’t have to be the focal point at the work of your business may be a hard concept for some lawyers to grasp. 

You may love lawyering so much that you might want to stay in the actual doing of the work. However, there are many lawyers that possess the desire to have more for themselves. That desire often leads to wanting more than just day-to-day practice of law. 

So today, I want to share some strategies that  will help you to get out of doing the work in your law firm so that you can actually create a business that does not require you.


In this episode we discuss:

  • How you don’t have to be the focal point at the work of your business.
  • Strategies that will help you design a system to assign work to others.
  • Using technology to automate work tasks.
  • The art of delegation.
  • How building a workflow allows people to work independently.
  • Getting your team to own their role in your business.
  • Having a key question for when decision fatigue happens.
  • Encouraging employees to think for themselves.

Allison Williams: [00:00:11] Hi, everybody, it’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. Law Firm Mentor is a business coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys. We help you grow your revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money.


Allison Williams: [00:00:24] Hi, everyone, it’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor, and welcome to another edition of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, where today we’re going to talk about work without you. This is the exciting thing that I love to talk about with our clients and with our community.


Allison Williams: [00:00:40] It’s all about the idea that you don’t have to be the focal point at the work of your business and I know a lot of lawyers struggle with that concept. They really think that because they are the one that started the business and you started as a practicing lawyer, that your role, your highest and best use is as a lawyer. And for some of you, that may be what you want to create, right? You might love lawyering so much that you might want to stay in the actual doing of the work. But for a lot of lawyers, there is a desire to not just have more for themselves. That’s often why they left someone else’s law firm and started on their own. Or they knew they never wanted to work for someone, so they hung a shingle right out of law school.


Allison Williams: [00:01:22] Right? That desire often leads to wanting more than just day-to-day practice of law. Oftentimes it’s wanting day-to-day practice of law to evolve into management, leading in law to evolve into something else that may not include you working in your law firm at all. So today, I want to talk a little bit about some strategies that you can use today that will help you to get out of doing the work in your law firm so that you can actually create a business that does not require you. It may involve you, and it may be something that you choose to do, but it doesn’t have to be that way.


Allison Williams: [00:01:56] All right. Strategy number one for work without you is that self-generated work is required instead of day-to-day delegation. Now, we talk a lot about the art of delegating because a lot of lawyers confuse abdication with delegation. Right. It’s kind of the idea that either I’m going to hold all my work for myself and parcel it out in little bite-sized pieces, or I’m going to pick up the entirety of my desk, dump it on someone else’s desk and say, here you go, have fun with that. And neither one of those approaches is going to lead you to having a self-run business that runs without you, at least not without creating a substantial amount of risk for malpractice, grievance and unhappy work culture. So we don’t want either of those strategies to be the way that we approach delegating work. But here’s the thing, your goal should be to move out of the necessity of day-to-day delegation. So what do I mean by that? Well, there are a lot of different activities in a law firm where a lawyer will delegate work to a paralegal, another attorney, maybe a marketing assistant. And a lot of those activities are required to be delegated because the lawyer took them on in the first place.


Allison Williams: [00:03:08] So instead of approaching your work from that perspective, I want you to conceptualize approaching your work from a place and saying here’s the activity that needs to get done, who should do that work right? And to design your, your workflow systems in a way that that work is simply picked up by the person who’s going to do the work without you having to be involved. Now, depending on the nature of the work, there can be some back and forth. There can be some activity that’s more your activity and some activity, that’s paralegal activity or associate activity or secretary activity. But the way that you’re ultimately going to design your system where you are not required to have done something in order for other activity to keep going on in a file is that you design the work in a way that your paralegal, your, your legal secretary, whomever is at fault, that they can simply have those tasks delegated to them through a system. Now, that can include things such as you meet once a week, you go over where cases are in progress so that your paralegal or legal secretary is ultimately getting that work in that one major meeting where everything that’s happening in all of the files is reviewed in a cursory fashion, but simply review so that the next action items are taken at that time, or preferably you’re using some form of a technological solution.


Allison Williams: [00:04:29] There are a lot of practice management software out there, we had an episode not long ago on The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, all about practice management software and how to choose the best practice management software for you, but most of them now have some form of workflow or automation tool that can be used to set up the automaticity of your legal work so you can either build them out yourself or if you’re not someone who builds them out, right? And if you’re not a tech person, if you’re not comfortable with that, there are a lot of different services that you can use in order to start to get automation built into your workflows. In other words, people will actually build the workflows for you and that work will then be assigned out to you through whatever your practice management software platform is, doing it that way allows people to work independently. Now, this doesn’t mean that there’s a detachment from you and your paralegal. So I know a lot of people, they feel like the paralegal is an extension of the desk of the lawyer and I very much espouse that view for how you work. But the paralegal should have enough independent agency autonomy and authority that the paralegal tasks that are on his or her plate are always being worked through alongside you, who’s doing something completely different and maybe not touching the file at all so that when those two roles culminate in moving a case forward, that those two roles fit together nicely.


Allison Williams: [00:06:04] And what happens is your paralegal can be working when you’re not there, when you’re not delegating, when you’re not emailing, when you’re not texting, when you’re not home calling, they can simply look at the next roster of activity to be done while you’re away. And incidentally, this is something that came up recently when a lawyer asked in, in a Facebook group how he could take a one-month vacation and not have resentment of his team. And a lot of, a lot of that deals with, with company culture, I’m going to be talking about company culture in an upcoming episode. But for now, I just want to focus on the idea that part of the reason why he’s even able to physically do that, why he’s able to be out of the office and not physically require to be there for that length of time is the fact that the work is automatic. That the paralegal doesn’t have to have someone tell her someone stop his or her day to tell that person, hey, I need you to prepare this financial affidavit, I need you to conduct this discovery, I need you to meet with this client. They will simply know that by virtue of having all of the tasks outlined and automated in a workflow. Now, for those of you that are not familiar with how to outline the tasks, I want you to think about this. As we talked about this before on this podcast, a document called a SKU. A SKU is an itemization of everything that happens, soup to nuts. Start to finish in a legal case, and it includes every player’s role in the legal case.


Allison Williams: [00:07:32] So if your role in initiating a case is to complete the new client consultation and the very first thing that happens after that is that a paralegal will call the client to gain some basic information for pleadings, then those two things in that order would be itemized in your SKU. Incidentally, you can also use that for planning out the budget of your case. So if you have all of those itemized transactions listed at the hourly rate or the quantifiable value, if you charge flat fees or the time on desk, if you are a contingency practice, if you have those ideas, those activities itemized, you will be able to quantify what the value is. So that when you are selling that service to a client, you know whether or not the client is paying more than what you are ultimately attributing it to an economic value. Or worse, the client is paying less, in which case you are receiving less compensation than you otherwise might be entitled to.


Allison Williams: [00:08:30] OK, next strategy in work without you, is that you have to get your team to own their role in your business. OK, now this happens through your strategic focus on the outcomes of their work, not the task, but the outcome. So when you give a paralegal a task, let’s say it’s something like I want you to interview the client and gain information or certification, we’re going to file with the court. When you give that task to someone, then all that they have to do to be successful is to complete the task, right? If they have the client come to the office, they call, they scheduled the appointment, the person shows up, they sit with the client for an hour or two hours, however long as necessary, they gain some information. Technically, they have done what you told them to do. You said here, go interview the client and get information. But on the flip side of that type of delegation, even if you were to be more strategic, more thorough, more evaluative in telling the client, hey, look, we’re telling the paralegal rather hey, look, I want you to ask for certain information, I want you to speak to the client in this tone, I want you to imbue them with a goal of giving us information that will help us achieve X, Y, Z. Even if you are a little bit more precise in your delegation, they still have completed the task, if they have generally completed the task. They have not, however, moved the case forward in the same way as would be expected if the client, the paralegal, was told that the client’s expectation is that the paralegal is a critical person on their team, they have a critical role in moving that person’s case forward to a positive outcome. That the outcome for the paralegal is to gain the necessary information to prove the statutory factors and a certain statute relative to a certain issue being presented in the case.


Allison Williams: [00:10:28] And when you give them a more global outcome, they can take ownership of whether or not they didn’t just interview the client, but they interview the client in the way that’s required, communicating what’s effective and necessary for the lawyer to have communicated and achieving the best outcome for the client, which is ultimately the goal of your law firm. In other words, it’s a broader picture, it’s a broader brush, it is painting a more precise picture, it is giving to the person on the other side of that delegated responsibility, it is giving them a sense of value in what they are doing, right? They’re not just doing something that you don’t feel like doing or something you can’t get around to. They’re doing something that is their role to do in the business, that is adding value to the client simply by virtue of it being defined as a role that they occupied. And when you give a person that sense of value in their role. When you give them a focus on the outcome rather than a focus on the task, you get people who are invested in asking better questions of you, asking better questions of your client being more thorough and more precise in what they are trying to achieve because they don’t just want to achieve the task and check it off the list. They want to get to that golden outcome, which is helping the client in a certain way.


Allison Williams: [00:11:47] All right, strategy number three for work without you is that you want to have a key question available to you in your arsenal for when decision fatique happens and your employees come to you with questions that you know that they know how to answer. OK, so the magic question I love this year. I love to talk to my clients about this question. So if you charge four hundred dollars an hour and your secretary comes in and asks you a question. I want you to ask this question up to her. Is this a four hundred dollar per hour question? Now, that might sound a little condescending, it might even sound rude to some of you, but I want you, I want you to think about what the conception of this question is. What you are doing is you are placing the responsibility back on the person who is asked a question of you to really conceptualize. Is this something that I need to go up the food chain of the highest economic value in the firm or certainly one of the highest economic values in the bottom? Right? You could actually if they’re asking you a question that is legal related, it could very well be that you have attorneys in your office that bill at a higher hourly rate than you do. But assuming for the moment that we’re talking about something that’s legal related.


Allison Williams: [00:13:05] Then it is, is this a four hundred dollar question, it gives that person a stop and reframe. Right? Does this require that level of expertise, that level of knowledge, that law degree? Is this something that a lawyer needs to be involved in or is this something that really can and should be answered by someone at a lower pay grade? And when you give that little reframe, when those questions come at you, rather than just answer the question. Right, that’s the instance when someone asks you a question, our mind is oriented to answer the question. When that question is presented and your answer is one that you don’t believe is, that you don’t believe is positive, that you don’t, you don’t envision that you’re going to have any outcome other than spitting out an answer and being frustrated at the person that they interrupted you to ask that question, then I want you to stop and ask yourself. Was it valuable to me that I actually did ask, that I actually did answer the question? Or would I have done the, the employee a better service by giving them the tools necessary to think for themselves? And oftentimes what you’ll find is that the person will either stop asking you and start asking somewhere or someone else. So you need to first revisit that behavior, make sure that that behavior doesn’t happen. You want them to start thinking for themselves, not just find another person to dump this request on to, but you also, you want to get them into a habit of asking themselves why they don’t know the answer.


Allison Williams: [00:14:41] And sometimes after you ask the, is this a four hundred dollar per hour question, the follow-up would be, do you have the answer to this question? And a lot of times the first instinct will be no, no, I don’t or that’s why I asked you. But what you’ll find is that more often than not, the answer is yes, and they’ll have a proposed solution. So if you cannot get them to self-reflect that, they shouldn’t have asked you in the first place and the next step is, do you know the answer? And they say, no, I then want you to have them explore a little bit. But if you did know the answer, what do you think it might be? OK, that’s a very common, very well known coaching technique, right. Because once a person gets to no in their mind. Once they they say, I don’t know. Right? Most of my clients will tell you I do not accept I don’t know as an answer. So you can tell me just about anything else and we can explore it. But if you say, I don’t know, I’m going to say answer is rejected. Try again. Because as soon as you get your mind to say, I don’t know, you stop in your tracks. Your mind has now got the signal, that it is OK to stop looking for the answer versus if you did know, what might it be? Your mind is then back open to exploring.


Allison Williams: [00:15:57] So you want your team members to always be in a state of looking for their own solutions and this applies, by the way, even with new hires. Right. So there’s obviously a certain level of stopgap that you’re going to put in place between a new hire going off and doing thinking for themselves, figuring it out for themselves and acting without having some, some buffer to make sure that they are truly acting consistent with what is required of their role in your office. But once you have gotten to the person, once you’ve gotten the person through onboarding, you’ve gotten them through that first round of activity in the office, you’ve gotten them hired, you’ve got them locked and loaded. Next is really making sure that you allow them, encourage them, actively promote them, thinking for themselves so that you are not required, right. And that’s really how you get to work without you. You get to work without you, when people are doing work without you, consistent with your values and your goals, achieving the outcomes that you require for your clients. Consistently, reliably, predictably. Right? And that sounds pretty unpackaged and it’s a nice little compartment but at the end of the day, it’s not easy, it’s simple, but it’s not easy. And it’s not easy because on every step of the ladder, you’re going to encounter yourself and yourself is not going to want to launch a workflow sequence and simply do your work while someone else is doing their work.


Allison Williams: [00:17:25] Right. And I know a lot of that comes from the desire to be needed and the need to be needed that a lot of us have. A lot of us don’t just enjoy lawyering, right? That might be part of what led us to own our own business, but a lot of it is that we felt less consequential, less necessary when we work for someone else and we couldn’t even identify why right? A lot of lawyers will have horror stories of how they’re treated in law firms that they leave to start their own business. But not everybody has that story. I mean, me personally, I worked for three very different law firms before I ultimately started my own. I can’t say I was mistreated in any law firm where I worked, right? There were certain parts of the job I didn’t enjoy, there were certain things that I thought were onerous requirements but ultimately I was respected where I was, no one was yelling at me. No one was putting me down, I was compensated well, I was given a certain level of prestige associating with different companies, and I was able to foster my career focusing on becoming the best lawyer instead of focusing on feeding myself at the same time as lawyering, at the same time as generating clients. So I had a great experience being an associate in different law firms.


Allison Williams: [00:18:39] But there was something inside of me that said I’m not important enough because I don’t have control and I don’t have authority beyond what’s given to me by someone else. And I know a lot of lawyers have that feeling now. I ultimately had to work on that and went through a lot of processes, a lot of coaching, a lot of therapy to actually heal that in myself so that now I’m very happy when work is going on without me. And I don’t feel at all triggered when someone else says, hey, raising my hand here, I’d like to do X. I’m like, oh, great! That’s one less thing I have to do, absolutely do that, right? But a lot of times there is something underneath the surface that tells us that we’re not valuable unless we are the doer in our business. The doing is what is rewarded, it’s rewarded in our culture, it’s rewarded in our profession, it’s regarded as a part of how we see ourselves. So that self-generated work oftentimes triggers us and a lot of times it will stop us from actually creating the synchronicity that’s necessary. And even once we get over that part, giving someone a role as opposed to giving someone a job is also oftentimes very triggering because it requires a certain level of trust and a certain level of reliance on another person and if you are not in the head frame based on whatever you have experienced in life up to date, that you can look at another person and believe fervently that they are going to follow your procedures, your systems and do it effectively and as well as if not better than you. If you don’t believe that it is going to be very challenging to relinquish the role over to another person.


Allison Williams: [00:20:16] Giving them a task is something insular. It’s like a boomerang. I give it out and I get it back. I give it out and I get it back. And there is some degree of help that you can get, certainly by adding assistance and adding people that will do work for you, that they will turn around to you. But giving the role completely over to someone else in a way that, yes, you still have to supervise, right? You can create systems and structure to supervise strategically, creating your systems in a way that allows you to oversee rather than to be still a doer is a very empowering force. And then finally reframing. Having that coaching conversation of, one, is this a four hundred dollars per hour question? Second, do you know the answer? And third, if you don’t know the answer, what might, if you did know the answer, what might it be. Giving that final coaching piece to allow people to, you know, get into that point of frustration where they just want to come and dump it back on you by asking you and you don’t go into the energy of oh, it’s easier if I do it myself. Fine. I’ll tell you the answer. But instead, you really help the person see that they knew the answer all along and they were just resistant or perhaps were going through a little decision fatigue. That is how you get people into the habit of constantly seeking the answers for themselves so that you’re not necessary and you can have work without you.


Allison Williams: [00:21:38] All right, everyone, I’m Allison Williams. And on this episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, we have talked about work without you. So if you are somebody that is struggling with the concept of how to create a culture, a business that runs without you, a law firm that runs without you, so that you can have more money and more free time in your law firm, we are here to help. So here at Law Firm Mentor, this is what we help lawyers do all across the country. We help our lawyers to achieve more money and more free time to crush the chaos in their business and to make more money. And we’d like to help you as well. So click the link in the show notes to this podcast, and you can always schedule yourself for a no-commitment conversation with us where we can talk you through some of these issues to see if this is the right fit to actually help you to create the culture that you desire. All right, everyone, I’m Allison Williams, and I’ll see you on the next episode.


Allison Williams: [00:22:42] Thank you for tuning in to the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. To learn more about today’s guests and take advantage of the resources mentioned, check out our show notes. And if you own a solo or small law firm and are looking for guidance, advice or simply support on your journey to create a law firm that runs without you, join us in the Law Firm Mentor Movement free Facebook group. There, you can access our free trainings on improving collections in law firms, meeting billable hours, and join the movement of thousands of law firm owners across the country who want to crush chaos in their law firm and make more money. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. Have a great day.!

Allison Bio:

Allison C. Williams, Esq., is Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law. 

Ms. Williams is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm 581% in three years. Ms. Williams won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017.  In 2018, Ms. Williams was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Ms. Williams won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.

In 2018, Ms. Williams created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers.  She helps solo and small law firm attorneys grow their business revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money.  Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications and money management in law firms. 


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00: 40 (42 Seconds) 

It’s all about the idea that you don’t have to be the focal point at the work of your business and I know a lot of lawyers struggle with that concept. They think that because they are the one that started the business and you started as a practicing lawyer, that your role, your highest and best use is as a lawyer. And for some of you, that may be what you want to create, right? You might love lawyering so much that you might want to stay in the actual doing of the work. But for a lot of lawyers, there is a desire to not just have more for themselves. That’s often why they left someone else’s law firm and started on their own. Or they knew they never wanted to work for someone, so they hung a shingle right out of law school.