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How Performance Reviews Can Help Outside Counsel Management Process

The process of formal performance reviews isn’t always the most eagerly anticipated part of the work year for most managers and employees. So why should it be looked upon more positively by outside counsel and, say, corporate general counsel or other managers within an in-house legal department?

The answer is that, as with a successful performance review system at any progressive company, the process can help nurture and sustain a good, productive working relationship, which in the end is what both parties desire. It gives GC a chance to discuss and confirm expectations; it can reveal possibilities for improving efficiency or effectiveness of processes, through the course of reviewing reports and procedures; and it provides an opportunity for GC to praise outstanding performance as well as bring up any areas where improvement is sought.

The fact is, some law firms these days are proactively asking to be evaluated with the belief that constructive criticism can be beneficial in the long run and displaying a positive attitude about the process can only help their relationship.

One of the keys to a proper performance review is for outside counsel to be well aware in advance about client objectives/expectations and milestones as well as the metrics that will be used. Some suggested areas for review include:

  • Quality of work — How does it compare with work performed with similar matter, or in similar situations, or by this firm in the past?
  • Expertise — Did outside counsel exhibit proper knowledge in such important areas as procedural law and substantive law, opposing counsel, judges, etc.
  • Timing in delivery of work against expectations
  • Adhering to the budget and staffing plan — and if there were adjustments, were they discussed with plenty of advance notice?
  • Communication with in-house management, including responsiveness and availability
  • Collaboration, as appropriate
  • Results

Some of these performance areas, of course, should be monitored during the course of the engagement as progress unfolds, at regular intervals or in real time. This is often when feedback and conversation can make a real difference — and this is where versatile tracking, billing and management software can provide valuable capabilities for compiling data, issuing reports and analyzing performance.

The management side also needs to remember this is a two-way street, and the best performance review will also consider their performance:

How did the firm or general counsel do in managing processes? How did they partner and collaborate to deliver value? What part of their performance can be done better next time?