By Susan Smith Blakely • April 19, 2018•Careers, Firms and the Private Sector
In identifying what it calls a "broken system" for associate reviews, Big Law's Hogan Lovells has abandoned the system of once yearly reviews in favor of more frequent periodic reviews. This is very good news and for some very good reasons that also will be discussed in my new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want, scheduled for release in the summer of 2018.
Here are some of the reasons cited in the article about the decision by Hogan Lovells:
- Playing to the employment market: The desire for constant performance evaluations are a characteristic of Millennial lawyers;
- Developing a program that is focused on growth and development and not compensation; and
- Providing all lawyers with a better sense of how they fit into the business of the firm.
The one feature of this program that I think falls short involves the burden for program success. The new scheme is described as directing "associates to proactively seek input from partners and other firm professionals about their performance throughout the year ... and requires associates to get three pieces of feedback from co-workers every four months." It appears that the program developers have forgotten how reluctant they were as young associates to ask a senior lawyer to take time from billable work to spend that time on associate lawyer development. More burden on senior lawyers likely would assure greater program success and would involve senior lawyers in a program that is new to them and that they need to understand and embrace.
But, one thing we can agree on is that the old system indeed was broken and has been broken for a long time. Not only do once yearly reviews fail to inform young lawyers of their successes or failures in a timely manner after the work has been accomplished and while memories are fresh, it also fails to take advantage of good mentoring practices. Mentoring is teaching, and a good teacher does not teach just once and abandon the student. Rather, effective mentoring is an on-going process between teacher and student with the goal of helping the student to gain skills to become as proficient as possible. Like once-a-year-mentoring, once-a-year- proficiency reviews do not have the slightest chance of achieving the desired goal.
That does not mean that periodic reviews should be substituted for a separate and effective formal mentoring program. Law firms should embrace opportunities for periodic formal reviews anda mentoring program. The criteria for an effective mentoring program are discussed in Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2015), and I encourage you to check out the information. You also may be interested in reading my former blog on the topic of mentoring.
The combination of periodic reviews and formal mentoring programs will provide young lawyers with feedback in near real time to gain both positive reinforcement and guidance to help young lawyers avoid repeating their mistakes. And the law firms will benefit by developing young lawyers earlier and avoiding cutting hours associated with repeated mistakes. Partners who are forced to cut bills are not good for law firm morale and certainly not good for young associates. So, it is a win-win for all.
Bravo to Hogan Lovells and to the other firms mentioned in the article that have adopted similar programs. Hopefully it is a sign of the times!
Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law. She is author of Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another. Her new book, Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, will focus on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and will be released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.
Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, Women Lawyers Journal (NAWL), Law.com, DC Spotlight, Lawyerist.com, Daily Muse, Lawyer and Statesman, Law.com and Huffington Post Business. Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division. She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" for her work on behalf of women in the law, and she is the recipient of a Lawyer Monthly Women in Law Award 2016.
Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy. For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com.