Faced with unprecedented changes in the legal profession usually referred to as the "new normal" firms must pay more attention than ever to improving their overall performance. Because one of the changes is a supposed oversupply of lawyers, a growing number of firms, midsize as well as large, are now conducting evaluations, not just of associates but also of partners. The purpose behind these evaluations is often just to classify certain attorneys as unproductive and get them out of the firm.
This is unwise. Getting rid of so-called "unproductive" partners may improve the firm's financial performance, but it often does not improve the firm's overall performance. On the other hand, fair and effective evaluations can improve individual partners' performance and therefore overall firm performance.
In contrast to associates, who want feedback on their work and performance, ?partners in many firms resist and ?even resent being evaluated, although it's often an integral step in setting their compensation.
The ability to conduct effective partner evaluations depends primarily on a firm's culture. If the firm has a "sole practitioner" culture, where every partner is accountable only to him or herself, evaluations cannot even be conducted. On the other hand, they are effective and productive in ?firms where partners consider themselves accountable to each other and depend ?on one another for the firm's overall ?success.
In firms that have this culture of accountability, all partners recognize that what is best for the firm is more important and ultimately more productive than the goals or ambitions of a particular partner.
No evaluation system is perfect. However, if the process is thorough, unbiased and equitable and is perceived to be so the evaluations will be fair and effective. They will also be accepted. There are certain essential characteristics of an effective evaluation process:
The partners conducting the evaluations must be trusted.
The process must be consistent and understood by both evaluators and recipients.
No judgments are made until all relevant information has been collected and the partner being evaluated has had the opportunity to make his or her case.
The evaluations must be explained so they are more readily understood and accepted.