The Pros and Cons of Attorney Performance Reviews

The Pros and Cons of Attorney Performance Reviews

Like many professionals, lawyers have a love/hate relationship with performance reviews. Some say they’re unhelpful and take up valuable time, while others think they’re a way to identify candidates for promotion and engage employees.  

Performance reviews should provide a dedicated time for leaders in an organization to praise employee strengths and discuss long-term goals, but according to Gallup, only 20% of employees say their performance management structure motivates them to do their best. 

Clearly, something’s not working well. For firms to retain top talent and engage employees, the performance management process needs to be evaluated. 

The benefits of annual performance reviews 

When they’re done thoughtfully and systematically, performance reviews can be beneficial for firms and employees. 

In a busy and siloed work environment, annual reviews give junior associates an opportunity to get to know attorneys and managing partners. The legal profession is often marked by long hours, stress, and alcohol abuse. The mentorship of younger associates by managing partners has long been seen as a way to retain and engage junior associates by praising their strengths and allowing them to ask questions and provide feedback. 

Annual performance reviews also force firm leadership to review the details of each employee’s work for the year, including write-offs, client reviews, and other helpful documentation that can point to inefficient workplace practices. When this information is reviewed and thoughtfully analyzed, it can boost the firm’s bottom line. 

Finally, performance reviews open the door to employee feedback. Too often, managing partners don’t have a sense of the company culture. By fostering a workplace environment that welcomes and invites feedback, leadership can take the pulse of the organization and better retain clients and employees alike. 

Drawbacks of performance reviews 

Unfortunately, for many firms, performance reviews don’t provide many benefits. Many firms elect a one-size-fits-all approach to performance reviews, scheduling impersonal reviews with whoever is available and reviewing a standard checklist of items during the evaluation. These practices can leave employees feeling unrecognized and underappreciated. 

In order for performance reviews to be maximally effective, a few changes must be made: 

  • Firms must invest in creating a performance management process. Don’t schedule a review without an agenda. Reviewing each employee’s invoicing, client communication, and matter management can help set the stage for the conversation, but praise should also go beyond employee revenue. 
  • Managing partners must recognize that every employee has unique strengths and weaknesses. Many attorneys are quick to point out areas junior associates can grow without recognizing all that associates bring to the firm. A strengths-based approach to performance reviews is more beneficial to employees. 
  • Constructive criticism should be brought up at once. Waiting for an annual review to share incorrect or ineffectual practices leaves associates frustrated.  
  • Conversations about compensation should be handled separately. Set the expectation that compensation will be regularly discussed outside of annual reviews. For many firms, fear of a compensation discussion is what stops them from performing reviews in the first place. 
  • Reviews must be performed by individuals familiar with the employee and their work. It’s tough to pencil in performance reviews, but punting the task to someone unfamiliar with the employee is a waste of time for all parties involved. Streamlining your practice management with CosmoLex can save you time on billing, invoicing, and documenting matters, so you’ll have more time to invest in your associates.

Delegating some tasks can optimize your firm’s business practices. By handing off automated tasks like time tracking, invoicing, and document management to a practice management software, you’ll free yourself up to focus on business practices that help your firm improve and grow. 

Alternatives to traditional performance reviews 

If you’re finding the annual performance review is ineffective at your firm, consider trying an alternative way to evaluate associates. 

360 reviews involve obtaining anonymous feedback from an employee’s subordinates, support staff, and superiors prior to a performance review discussion. These performance reviews provide a more thorough and complete picture of each employee’s unique contributions and challenges in the workplace. 

Frequent, informal check-ins can be another great way to regularly invest in associates. These discussions can be performed quarterly or monthly to discuss employees’ progress towards goals and current difficulties. 

For a maximally effective workplace, try CosmoLex 

Performance reviews are only one aspect of your business. Analyze employee performance, automate unnecessary tasks, and track the metrics that really matter to you with our innovative, cloud-based platform. Schedule a demo today to see how CosmoLex can transform your firm’s business practices. 

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