Prepare in Advance
- Know the facts. Carefully study each associate's materials including self-assessments, supervisor evaluations, etc., before the meeting. Give appropriate weight to each evaluation. If you identify potential concerns, make sure to investigate problems prior to the review session.
- Schedule the evaluation meeting in a neutral location, such as a conference room, at a time when both you and the associate will have time to spend and to focus on a thorough discussion without interruptions. Once a time has been set, keep the appointment! Try not to give bad news on a Friday!
- Determine in advance who should participate, making sure not to overwhelm the associate with too many reviewers. Ideally, two reviewers should be present - one to be the primary speaker and the other to take notes regarding items that require further action.
- Anticipate the tough questions and plan your response. Know the firm's expectations of associates at a given level and the policies regarding issues that may be raised during the course of the session (i.e., work assignment, in-house or outside training, fee generation, outplacement, etc.).
Deliver the Message
- Set the tone for the meeting by explaining the format and encouraging the associate to participate in the process.
- Discuss strengths, areas where the associate has improved, and areas where further improvement is necessary. Keep the session focused and directed, keeping sight of the goals of the meeting, as well as providing feedback and improving job performance and satisfaction. Provide specific and concrete examples of good and poor performance. Follow up your examples with expressions of appreciation for good performance and with suggestions regarding how performance can be improved or enhanced (i.e., working with particular attorneys, participating in training programs, etc.).
- Focus on the communication process. Be honest and be an active listener, ensuring that the associate understands the institutional message. Ask for comments from the associate, and make sure you understand the associate's position and concerns. Are further actions or discussions necessary to resolve issues raised by the associate?
- Use the evaluation interview as a starting point for professional development and goal setting for the coming year. Seek feedback from associates on their goals regarding such areas as the skills they would like to develop, the types of assignments they would like to receive, and the substantive areas in which they would like to receive additional training.
Follow Up for Successful Professional Development
- Assess the effectiveness of your organization's evaluation procedures while the process is still fresh in your mind. Allow plenty of time for the consideration of policy changes or for adjustments to the systems currently in place.
- Establish a timetable for the next meeting to review the associate's progress. Determine whether formal and institutional interim measures are required. If so, make sure you are knowledgeable about your organization's policies in this regard.
- If issues were raised in the evaluation interview that require further attention, handle them promptly. Make sure to document follow-up in each associate's file so that at the next review period you will remember what action was taken.
- Assist the associate in setting goals that are concrete and achievable. Work with appropriate supervisors to ensure that assignments, training, and other professional development opportunities are consistent with what was discussed in the associate's evaluation. If necessary, assign a partner who will check in with the associate periodically to determine whether the associate is fulfilling his or her commitments, and whether the firm is providing the requisite support.
- See Behavioral Interviewing Techniques to Help Your Law Firm Get Great Laterals for more information.