published September 21, 2020

By Maria Laus, Author - LawCrossing

The Importance of Performance Check-ins in the Legal Sphere

The Importance of Performance Check-ins in the Legal Sphere

Traditional performance reviews were held annually or bi-annually and focused on critiquing the work of the staff. Raises and advancement were often tied to these reviews, but recent data has shown them to be largely ineffective in promoting real change within an organization. More frequent, and less formal check-ins encourage better communication and are forward-focused. Unlike traditional performance reviews that were focused on how a staff member had performed in the last six to twelve months, frequent check-ins are focused on setting goals for the future.

Frequent check-ins among partners, attorneys, and their legal staff have proven to increase efficiency, performance, and overall job satisfaction. These check-ins essentially help keep everyone on the same page with clearly established goals and serve to provide the feedback that team members need to self-regulate their job performance. The faster the pace of the work environment, the more these types of check-ins are needed.

The legal field is a fast-paced work environment. It can become easy to overlook the need to offer direction, feedback, and established goals. Frequent check-ins serve to keep a balanced and productive workflow and allow any issues to be addressed before they can interfere with productivity.

The first step in implementing frequent check-ins is to establish how frequently they need to be held. Then comes the decision of whether the meetings will be held privately between a staff member and their direct manager, or held as a team meeting that includes an entire department. A combination of private sessions interspersed with department check-ins covers the most ground and provides the most favorable outcomes.

Communication from managers to staff regularly will help build a solid foundation for feedback and opens up the potential of a more engaged workforce. The legal support staff will feel more supported in knowing what they are doing right and what areas could use improvement. There are benefits to a continuous performance process such as weekly staff meeting check-ins, such as:
  • Establishing clear channels of communication
  • Addressing issues early
  • Building camaraderie among legal staff
Frequent staff check-ins also provide an opportunity to compliment exemplary work in a timely manner, feeding a sense of appreciation and teamwork needed to build a healthy work environment. Making sure that your associates and support personnel know that their hard work is seen and appreciated provides a framework for honest communication.

Benefits to legal staff members

This type of communication must flow both ways to establish the best team environment. If support staff have questions or feel that their time could be used more efficiently, these type of meetings should be their opportunity to express things they think could use improvement.

Frequent communication about performance motivates employees to offer their best performance consistently. Productivity increases in step with the morale of the team and allows for easy course corrections when necessary. Working with staff to establish clear goals leads to improved organizational productivity. From the top to the bottom of your organizational structure, you want people striving to improve. Clear goals and a desire to improve lead to self-accountability. Self-accountability, in turn, helps goals to be reached more efficiently and helps each person grow in their role in the firm.

These frequent check-ins foster a continuous learning process. Trends change fast in the legal field, and new technology is playing a more significant role than ever. Keeping abreast of industry trends and encouraging staff members to engage in learning opportunities is critical to fostering a growth mindset across the organization.

These meetings are a launching point to establish and maintain best practices for all aspects of the organization. How a legal firm does business should be a continually evolving process to remain relevant and competitive in today’s legal environment. When legal staff members feel that they have a voice in how things are done and are free to make suggestions for improvement, everyone benefits. Staff members who feel invested in the ultimate goals of the firm are going to work harder, with more dedication than staff members who feel as though they do not have a voice.

These brief meetings are ideal for identifying problems or bottlenecks that slow down the workflow. Supervisors, attorneys, and office managers are definitely vital players in recognizing such issues. However, the support staff can offer valuable insight from their perspective on ways to improve the workflow process. Listening to staff concerns and suggestions for improvements also serves to make everyone feel like an essential part of the team, increasing job satisfaction.

Check-ins foster open communication, teamwork, learning, and helping to identify potential problems, and they also help train leaders to become comfortable in giving and receiving feedback on job performance. To make these check-in meetings a success, they should have clear and established goals. At a minimum, the meetings should seek to:
  • Give measurable feedback that establishes immediate goals
  • Identify obstacles to achieving the goals
  • Provide a place for staff members to articulate their concerns, positive steps and give general feedback
  • Set clear expectations—Clear expectations are essential in busy legal practices as team members often work on a variety of projects, all under different management. You can have a motivated employee who is willing to learn, but who feels overwhelmed by their job because they do not clearly understand what is expected of them.
Various polls all report that employees prefer frequent check-ins with feedback to ascertain how they are doing in their jobs and where they can improve. Smaller law offices and firms are less likely to hold regular check-ins than larger firms. Smaller law offices stand to gain just as much as large firms from establishing a set check-in schedule with staff members. The time it takes to hold these check-ins is minimal compared to the potential gain for a legal firm.

As with implementing any new strategy, it will take some time to work out the process and to see the full array of benefits. The system of increased performance reviews can be tailored to fit the needs of your organization best. There may be some bumps in the road as everyone adjust to a different review process, but the outcome will be worth the investment of time.

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