Law Practice Management and Technology

The Bottom Line Volume 37, No 1 February 2016

Regular Associate Evaluations Promote Professional Development

By Donna W. Low

A law firm’s ability to provide legal services of the highest quality depends on its success in retaining skilled and committed attorneys. This in turn requires firm management to focus on its attorneys’ performance and professional development. While meaningful and frequent informal feedback suggests the firm is committed to developing its associates, regular performance evaluations are an important mechanism to provide subjective and objective feedback on each associate’s strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. Implementation of a systematic performance evaluation process improves associate productivity and enhances retention. A structured associate evaluation program should serve as the basis for making informed compensation, promotion and termination decisions.

There are costs associated with implementation of a performance evaluation program. The firm incurs lost billable hours when the partners take time to meaningfully evaluate the performance of one or more of the firm’s associates. However, with associate attrition costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, several hours of lost billable time due to a systematic evaluation process seems inconsequential.1 Formal evaluation of each associate’s performance and regular evaluation conferences are key components of a solid business plan aimed at decreasing attrition, strengthening the firm culture and, ultimately, providing better client services.

This article addresses the development of a structured program for evaluation of associate attorneys and includes suggestions to avoid unintended creation of implied-in-fact employment agreements, terminable only by just cause.

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