There are many great things about working for yourself, such as being able to control your day and the way in which you want to work. Of course, there are also downsides as well, such as occasionally feeling isolated and not having anyone else to blame if there is no skim milk in the refrigerator. Curse you, full fat milk!
There are two times a year, however, when I am particularly glad I work for myself, and that is at the time my friends and colleagues are preparing their yearly or half-yearly performance reviews.
Almost every workplace will do this in some form or another, whether it’s by way of an informal chat – for example:
Manager: Everything going OK?
You: Yes. I work so hard, though. Can I please have a raise?
Manager: *looks slightly pained* Well, times are tough you know. How about I keep your salary at the same level, but you work even harder and do the jobs of two other people who have just quit? That would be a good goal for the year ahead right?
Manager: Great, I’ll let HR know.
or a formal, long, annoying detailed and always slightly confusing written performance review based on a template devised by the Human Resources team, or pulled off the internet.
At the last few places I worked, it was a combination of both of these. I was asked to prepare a formal written report that was submitted to my supervising partner, and I could also nominate other people I worked with to provide feedback. We then had (or were meant to have) a formal sit-down face to face meeting. That part never really happened.
I’ve also had to GIVE performance reviews to people, because someone at sometime mistakenly took me for being a boss who had underlings. Little did they know that it was the team around me that made me look good, and without them I was nothing.
So where am I going with all of this?
Performance reviews are terrible, but unavoidable. The worst part is starting them, and if you are anything like me you leave it until 8pm on the day before it is due. I feel for anyone going through this process, and so wanted to post three tips I have for doing your performance reviews.
I am not saying my tips are by any means perfect or universal to every lawyer or non-lawyer. If you like them, great! Please use them. If you don’t like them, well, at least you know what NOT to write. Right? Write. Right.
TIP 1 – GET CLIENT FEEDBACK THROUGHOUT THE YEAR
The best performance review I ever did was my last one at my former firm, where I simply put ‘See Attached’ in each of the categories I was meant to complete. I then attached client feedback forms I had gathered throughout the year. It didn’t really matter what the performance review category was, I just referred to the client feedback and hoped for the best. I was past caring at this stage, to be honest, and saw this as a lazy way of getting the performance review done with minimal effort on my part. After all, I was just about to resign.
For whatever reason, this method worked and I got great feedback (although no raise). Bosses and bosses’ bosses love to know that the people paying the bills like the people issuing the bills. Really, if clients like you, it makes it hard for the firm to say anything bad about you.
I would therefore strongly suggest that, during the course of each year, after you complete a deal, no matter how big or small, you pick your favourite person at the client’s business (or the client themselves, if they are an individual) and send them a short one-page feedback paper. In that paper, ask your client to write down a sentence or two of feedback ‘as it would really help me out’.
Most people are, by and large, halfway decent and will be happy to do this. I think about 90% of the people I asked ended up giving me some sort of response to my questions.
The template I used to send out was as follows – feel free to use and adapt:
1. How would you describe the quality of services provided by [lawyer]? For example, was [he / she] professional and polite? Did [he / she] provide timely responses and meet all of your deadlines? Did [he / she] understand your requirements and provide you with the legal advice you required?
2. Overall, were you satisfied, indifferent, or unsatisfied by the legal services provided by [lawyer]?
3. Was there anything specific that [lawyer] did that really had an impact on you? Can you give an example of where [lawyer] exceeded your expectations?
4. What do you think [lawyer] could do to improve his services to you?
Notice how all these questions are designed to get you positive feedback? Keep the responses on file and bust them out at performance review time.
TIP 2 – USE HARD FACTS
For lawyers, performance reviews really come down to two things – how many hours did you work and how much money did you make the firm?
Most time entry programs will let you work out your weekly or monthly number of billable hours. Take your monthly number of hours worked, divide by 30 and get a daily rate (round up if possible, but don’t push it too far).
If it is under the target billable hour number, don’t worry. Have you done non-billable work? Client development, presentations, mentoring or work for clients that was done fee free or pro bono should help justify why you are under the target.
Estimate how many hours a day you spent on these non-billable activities, and say something like ‘In accordance with our firm’s policy of doing pro bono work and going above and beyond to meet client expectations, I have also committed [x] hours per day to non-chargeable work. However, as the attached client feedback shows, this work was highly valued by the client and directly led to our firm being re-engaged by the client for significant billable work’.
The second thing to do is take your monthly number of billable hours, and times it by your (full) charge-out rate. That tells the firm how much money you made them each month.
If you want to be really tricky, divide this monthly revenue figure by your monthly salary to get your ‘multiple’ – that is, how many dollars you brought into the firm, for each dollar the firm needed to pay you. Somewhere over 4 is great! No pressure though.
TIP 3- LET YOUR BOSS KNOW THEY WOULD BE LOST WITHOUT YOU
Are you the person clients call when they have a problem? Let the firm know.
Are you the only one who knows how your partner files emails and where to find stuff on the document management system? Again, let the firm know.
Your aim here is to remind your reviewer/s that if you leave or are let go, your reviewer/s are going to be in deep poo, as the person that used to have their back and look after them is gone.
Don’t hold back here either. Most performance review forms have a section on organisational skills and complying with document management policies. Make it very clear that you are not just responsible for your own document management, but you also actively ensure that the ‘rest of your team’ (AKA your supervising partner) comply with such policies.
Firms are paranoid about getting audited by the Law Society on these things, so knowing there is someone in the team that has this covered makes you a very, very valuable asset.
Hope that helps, good luck with your performance reviews all!!