10 Tips For Giving a Performance Review For Attorneys

As a Practice Advisor for Attorneys I find that there is resistance to  performance reviews both by the attorney or staff person being reviewed and the attorney doing the reviewing.  No one likes them!  The lawyer or staff member being reviewed often feels threatened and defensive about the review.  The reviewer resists doing the review because past reviews have been confrontational.  Reviews are not useful unless the reviewer can give constructive feedback in a positive way so that the lawyer or staff member being reviewed can feel validated and acknowledged and at the same time sees how to improve his/her performance in the future.  Here are 10 tips for the attorney or manager doing the performance review.

  1. Prepare carefully.  Review employee file with information from previous feedback sessions.  If you require feedback from others for a proper evaluation, request that feedback and wait to schedule review until you have all the necessary data. Be sure you are ready with the data to show where improvement is required and that you have specifics to share with the employee. 
  2. Review the performance criteria you have established or your firm provides.  (No performance criteria? A Practice Advisor can help you to establish these for your firm.)These are the criteria by which you measure the performance of all your personnel with a similar title.  The criteria includes: Job knowledge, communication skills, interpersonal relationships etc.
  3. Ask the employee to evaluate him/herself using your criteria.   Encourage the employee to review his/her accomplishment and to list his/her strengths and weaknesses.  This will help you to identify the performance gaps between your evaluation and the employees.  These gaps must be addressed in the performance review.   
  4. Meet in a private location.  Reviews should not be done where others can overhear the conversation.  Choose a conference room or your office if it is available.  If an employee works at a remote location and the manager can not get to that location, then the feedback session may have to be done by telephone or video conference. This is less ideal but workable.  Email or a written report is never appropriate for the initial performance review because it does not allow the employee to have a real time conversation with the reviewer.
  5. Listen carefully to the employee as he/she speaks about his/her own performance.  Ask clarification questions as the employee discusses his/her accomplishments, successes and disappointments.  Use the data you have from your preparation to clarify your understanding of the situation. 
  6. Avoid being confrontational.  Do not think of yourself as the judge of the employee but as a partner and guide.  Stay positive during the review.  Ideally the employee will see the weaknesses in his/her performance in the self appraisal and your job will be to help with suggestions and solutions. Address the gaps between your appraisal and the employee’s self appraisal.  If the employee has not identified a weakness that you need to highlight do it in a positive manner emphasizing how the employee might improve his/her performance.
  7. No surprises.  Any negative feedback that is given during a performance review should have been addressed at least once before during the year.  It is unfair to the employee to learn that you were dissatisfied with his/her performance on a project or unhappy with his/her behavior during the year if you have not told him/her about it when it occurred. 
  8. Make sure the review is done on time.  Managers tend to avoid doing performance reviews.  Most firms require they be done at least annually.  Because the review requires a lot of time managers tend to put them off.  Many clients tell me that they feel they must attend to the “needs of the practice” first.  Performance reviews are a “need of the practice” because they help the employee to perform at a higher level and more directly serve the needs of the law practice. 
  9. Set goals to address gaps and weaknesses with the employee and schedule regular feedback sessions during the year.  Make sure the goals are in line with the goals of your practice. A performance review is a good time to update the job description which often shifts as the employee gets more skilled.
  10. End review on a positive note.  Help the employee to see the opportunities he/she has for improvement for the coming year.  Express confidence in the employee’s ability to improve his/her performance in areas discussed,   Offer your support if the employee needs it.  Express appreciation to the employee for his/her service to your law firm.

2 Responses to “10 Tips For Giving a Performance Review For Attorneys

  • Yes I agree. They need to be done regularly. Some choose to do it more frequently than annually. Millennials like frequent feedback. Seems like that would be good for everyone.

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