By Charles A. Volkert III, Esq.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a premier legal staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and global markets and offers a full suite of legal staffing and consulting solutions.
So much of a legal job is time sensitive: deadlines for filings, affidavits, statutes of limitation and more. There’s no time to waste, yet your team occasionally suffers from procrastination. As a manager, it’s up to you to identify and address the reasons for delays before they negatively affect your team’s productivity.
Let’s take a look at three common types of procrastinators, as well as some legal career advice you can share with them to help them stay productive.
People who strive for perfection can be paralyzed by this unattainable goal. The pressure they place on themselves can make every task seem overwhelming, leading them to procrastinate. Once they do begin, their fear of making a mistake means they take an inordinate amount of time to complete a task.
What you can do:
- Relate to them. Let them know everyone, yourself included, has an occasional slipup. While you certainly don’t want them to rush and turn in sloppy work, remind them of the importance of working efficiently and not obsessing over minutiae. Emphasizing this fact could help them ease up on themselves and become more productive.
- Help with goal setting. Perfectionists will go above and beyond to excel in their job. However, some overeager employees set themselves up for failure by reaching for unrealistic goals. Work with them to modify these goals to a more manageable scale.
- Set parameters. Perfectionists are obsessive, and they’ll take more time than allotted to revise and polish everything. You can be assured they have applied careful scrutiny to each document that passes their desk, but help them get into the habit of rereading the final document only once or twice, signing off on it and starting on the next file.
These procrastinators have solid legal skills, but they also have an inferiority complex. Because of performance anxiety, self-doubters can be hesitant to tackle their workload each week in a timely manner for fear of failure — a recipe for lowering the organization’s productivity.
What you can do:
- Mentor. Self-doubters need personalized legal career advice. One of the best ways to deliver that is through a more experienced adviser, who can teach certain skills that are not easily taught otherwise. A mentor can boost their confidence in a way that leads to success in their legal job, which should lead to greater productivity.
- Keep your door open. Self-doubters have plenty of questions, so be available to them. Many times, they just need assurance that they’re going in the right direction. With continued encouragement and feedback, they’ll gain confidence in their abilities.
- Give constructive criticism carefully. The way you deliver feedback is crucial to self-doubters’ success. Phrase your comments positively, such as, “I see why you took this approach, but it didn’t quite work out. Let’s tackle this issue another way.” Honing one’s ability to give feedback is good legal career advice for all managers.
Other sources of procrastination are boredom and job dissatisfaction. These employees are no longer interested in the job, so they feel no urgency to start assignments. At the same time, they may seem unmotivated because they’re actually overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.
What you can do:
- Look for burnout. Procrastinating on some tasks could be a sign your team is overworked. Encourage staff to unplug from work when they’re at home and to take all their vacation days. Additionally, bring in temporary legal help during peak periods. Sometimes rest and respite are all employees need to bounce back to their productive selves.
- Gauge satisfaction. When employees are bored with their current legal job, it can be hard for them to start and finish projects. Work together with unproductive staff members to find a solution. Don’t be afraid to deliver the message that you expect more out of them than you’re getting.
- Monitor progress. Sometimes unmotivated legal professionals need a watchful eye to get going. While you don’t want to micromanage or spy on people, you can hold regular progress meetings or ask for status updates. Once employees get back into a rhythm, give them more autonomy and acknowledge their improvements.
The causes of legal job procrastination can vary widely. However, when you understand the reasons some employees suffer from productivity pitfalls, you can start addressing the problems — and get the entire team back on track again.