Aficionados of medical dramas (like me) will recognize this as the adage of the surgeon.  It’s their learning curve.  See a procedure.  Do the procedure. Teach the procedure. They believe that this is the strongest way to learn a new skill in their profession. I think this method would work for lawyers as well, but I would modify it slightly to:

See, assist, do, teach.

See: As a personality type, lawyers like to know the context in which they are acting.  They also like autonomy.  They put up with being asked to do discrete tasks as part of a bigger picture, but it isn’t their preferred way of working.  They also like to do things well.  So, when you ask a lawyer to do something new, they’ll feel far more confident about their eventual attempt if first, they’ve had the chance to see what the full picture will look like.  That’s why it’s so helpful for lawyers to shadow or observe a skill before they are asked to practice that skill.  Invite them to observe during a discovery, witness prep, or a trial.  Invite them to sit in on a meeting with a client to discuss a deal, and then show them the end product.

Assist: The next step up is to invite the lawyers to participate.  Don’t give them the entire task, but perhaps they could handle a portion of it.  Interview and prepare this one witness.  Draft this part of the agreement.  Let them try their hand at one or more sections of the work.  There may be several versions of this that need to happen in order for the lawyer to get comfortable with all elements of the overall project.

Do: Now it’s time to reverse the roles. The younger lawyer becomes responsible for the project, but I would put in plenty of touchpoints with the supervising lawyer.  This helps to ensure the younger lawyer is building confidence as well as skill. More on this below.

Teach:  Finally, and after the lawyer has proven their capability in the project or skill, it’s their turn to teach it to a younger lawyer.  Teaching is one of the best ways to ensure you know what you’re talking about.  Lawyers who say “I don’t know, I just do it, I don’t think of the steps” are probably missing some of those steps and may not be as effective in that skill as they think they are.  Teaching something forces you to break it down to its logical, sequential components.  It creates order to a task, and natural check-points to ensure the task is on point and on time.

Situational Leadership:  this is a concept normally taught over a series of days, but I do a Cole’s Notes version for the lawyers I work with.  The concept boils down to this: when delegating a matter, the method for that delegation depends on the level of confidence the lawyer has, and their level of experience, with that particular task.   If you chart both on a graph with an x and y axis, you can place most situations into one of four quadrants.

  • Hight experience, low confidence: focus should be on helping the lawyer to use the experience to gain confidence. That might involve having them outline the steps to you beforehand, so you can confirm they know those steps. It can also include having more touch points with them so they can build their confidence in a more protective environment.
  • High experience, high confidence: This is the quadrant where you want everyone to get to on every matter. At this point, you can say “I want this, by Friday”, and you know it will be done well and on-time.  Very little direction or support is needed.
  • Low experience, low confidence: This requires the highest level of support and direction. Show them the full picture, detail what you want them to do, give them resources, have lots of touch points.
  • Low experience, high confidence: this lawyer has more bravado than skill in this area. Have them explain to you exactly how they would proceed.  Have touch points that will help you build your confidence in them.

A lawyer might change their quadrant, depending on the task at hand.  As a delegator or mentor or work assigner, you need to determine where they sit on this task, and guide them accordingly.

When you are teaching a lawyer a new skill, and as you go through the “see, assist, do” components of the learning curve, keep in mind what quadrant the lawyer is in at any given time, and give them to level of support needed to slowly, eventually, move them into “high confidence, high experience” over time.

It’s predicted that AI will take over many of the basic skills we currently rely on younger Associates for. That means that we’ll need to train them more rapidly on the areas of law that a computer can’t do.  Rapid training requires a better training process.  A reliance on tradition and precedent have caused most law firm owners to be staid in their business practices.  But this won’t work in our rapidly changing world.  We need to develop faster teaching methods and “see, assist, do, teach” done in a systematic way will help to meet this goal.

Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms, lawyers and administrators.  She can be reached at