This is a topic that I address whenever I speak on effective leadership for young women lawyers. However, the need for valuable feedback to young lawyers about the quality of their work is not gender specific. They all need it, and most of them do not get enough of it.
Not giving good feedback to junior lawyers is a real failing of senior lawyers, and it lowers the level of effective leadership in law firms. Relying on annual reviews as the only way to address issues of work product, professional behavior and related issues is not serving the young lawyers or the law firms well. The feedback must be much more often and much more strategic to help guide young lawyers in their careers.
Now, fortunately, we find that large law firms are looking for feedback on the effectiveness of their own feedback. Fancy that! Legalintelligencer.com reports that some large firms, here and abroad, are either abandoning annual reviews in favor of “consistent feedback and dialogue” or are starting more regular conversations about performance. Young lawyers today, like generations of lawyers before them, are looking for praise, at most, and constructive criticism, at least — and they are entitled to it.
In my book on effective leadership for women lawyers, I praise Reed Smith for the metrics-based women’s initiative developed at that firm, and now I have more reason to say “hat’s off” to that firm. According to the Legal Intelligencer article, Reed Smith is developing a pilot program utilizing a real-time feedback app to allow partners to give effective feedback on performance regardless of time zones. The inability to bridge time zones and walk down the hall to say “well done” is described as a strong motive to develop an effective program to improve the feedback.
The article also reports specific efforts at two other firms. Blank Rome has been in the process of “revolutionizing” its evaluation methods for several years and is using corporate America as a model. The first step was to simplify the year-end review form and make it available year round. The program also includes a midyear “check-in” informal discussion and a “100-hour dialogue” for the new lawyers with the partners they have worked for the most. And, Ballard Spahr is working on software to prompt partners to provide feedback at the time when an associate completes an assignment.
Other firms may be working on similar programs, and it all is very good news. Associate lawyers want to be treated like their work is important and deserves attention. There is nothing more frustrating to them than not having their efforts recognized, and it makes them feel like mere cogs in a wheel. Young lawyers tell me that it is not unusual to send work product to partners without having receipt acknowledged — just receipt, nothing more.
Now we have evidence that law firms are recognizing what very bad strategy for retaining and advancing talent that is and how it demonstrates ineffective leadership. I hope the efforts described in this article turns into the rule rather than the exception.