Since lawyers tend to think that they know a great deal more than they do about just about everything, they often choose to do things themselves rather than pay money to experts to do them.
One of the things that lawyers typically do poorly is performance reviews.
A few observations:
- Lawyers are busy. They have no time to do this ‘administrative stuff.’ So they procrastinate, which tells the staff member that this is not particularly important. When they find out that their salary increase cannot be processed because their supervisor has not yet done the performance review, they are not particularly happy.
- Important, productive, tough lawyers sometimes become gutless when they have to tell their assistant, law clerk or associate something negative. Alternatively, they use their lawyer voice to deliver the news in a manner which is less than constructive. Of course, we could train the lawyers to do this properly, but that would reduce billable hours so neither they nor their firms want to bother doing this.
- Some more enlightened law firms allow the HR person to do them. They pretty much have to because the lawyers are not getting to it. All the HR person needs to do a great job is input from the supervising lawyers. But the supervising lawyers are oh so busy with real work. The kind of work that is billable. The HR person struggles to do the job without having the information required to do it properly.
- When lawyers do provide performance reviews, they typically do not have notes to rely upon because they did not make any since the previous review. So they base their review on their faded recollection and exceptional recent events, be they positive or negative.
- Human resource professionals know that performance reviews should not be the source of new information for employees. If there are issues, the employee should have heard about them at the time that they arose. Except that surprisingly enough for people who are professionally trained to argue with other people, many lawyers do not actually like confrontation, so they tend not to mention things as they happen. So even if the lawyers do provide constructive feedback at the performance review, the person being reviewed is often taken aback and less than pleased that this is the first that they are hearing about it.
- I am sure that there are staff at law firms who are happy because they are treated respectfully, but I expect that there are many who are not. Getting performance reviews right is an elemental step in building goodwill with employees. Elemental perhaps, but uncommon.
So there you have it. Something else that law firm management can improve. And while they are at it, they can give some thought as to why there are no meaningful reviews of equity partners who post big numbers, who, after all, are the people who feel free to break all the rules in the first place. A topic for another day…