I am the managing partner of an eight attorney firm in Central Illinois. We have five partners and three associates. Over the years we have experienced excessive associate turnover and have had problems retaining associates. While we believe that we provide adequate feedback to our associates regarding our expectations and their performance in real time and in their annual reviews several of my partners believe that we can do better. I would appreciate your thoughts and suggestions.
One of the most frequent complains I hear during interviews with associates in law firms of all sizes is lack of specific detailed feedback, unclear or non-existent expectations concerning their performance and future career progression, and vague informal performance reviews.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Institute a system where associates, especially when they are new, have a chance to work with all of the partners in the firm.
- As managing partner solicit feedback from your partners and meet monthly with each associate and discuss their performance during their first two years of employment with the firm.
- Annually conduct formal performance reviews with each associate. Before the review obtain specific feedback from each of the partners and have each partner complete a written review of each associate using the associate performance rating form. Ask each associate to conduct a self-evaluation using the firm's associate performance rating form and then conduct a detailed review with each associate. The review should be detailed and specific and should be developmental with specific goals and timelines established. Document the review in the associate performance rating form.
- Consider developing an associate career progression program (partnership track) and committing it to writing. The program should outline the timeline for first consideration for partnership, competencies and performance factors, what partnership means in your firm, how an associate becomes a partner, buy-in or capital contribution requirements, voting, etc.
- Be honest and open with your associates - don't try to be Santa Claus - tell them the truth, have the difficult discussions, and make the tough calls. Be accessible.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC