A number of U.K.-based law firms have dropped formal, annual attorney performance reviews in favor of ongoing assessments in recent months, a trend that could soon catch on at U.S.-based BigLaw firms.
Allen & Overy, RPC, Hogan Lovells and Linklaters LLP have ditched, or are in the process of ditching, annual performance reviews or assessments and are moving instead to more frequent, less formal methods of determining and communicating performance, according to U.K. media reports, and others in Britain are considering doing the same.
According to Jacquelyn Knight, a partner in Major Lindsey & Africa’s New York office, formal reviews are still officially scheduled at most U.S. law firms once a year, but she agrees with Zimmermann that firms have begun to provide feedback more regularly, both in the U.S. and the U.K.
“Although the traditional annual review still stands, the review process has evolved,” Knight said. “Firms are getting better at tracking numbers with new technology and the addition of business professionals at law firms.”
However, she said, less is not more when it comes to meaningful feedback, and technology can't replace the important "soft stuff" — good conversations about what the attorney under review does and what they may be missing.
“For partners, more regular feedback — or even biannual or quarterly reviews — is growing in popularity,” she said. “Increased communication with partners provides more information regarding his or her individual accomplishments and what they can do to improve.”
And for more junior lawyers, the person who delivers their feedback is another factor shifting in review systems, according to Knight. In an effort to address associate retention and the cost of attrition, some junior associates may receive feedback directly from the senior associates and counsel that interact with them daily, she said.
“Attorneys at all levels want to know where they stand, their likelihood for promotion, and potential leadership positions within their firms,” she said. “Communicating to attorneys their accomplishments and weaknesses more often leads to improved performance for clients and teamwork, so increasing the regularity of communication can be a win-win for firms.”