Successful evaluation systems have certain criteria and goals. The first requirement is that there are published criteria against which each partner is evaluated. The list of criteria may vary from firm to firm, but it usually includes quantitative factors such as billable hours, collections and realization. These figures can be based on the firm's plans and objectives or they may be based on averages for firms similar in size or type. Some firms record and consider origination, although there can be serious disagreements in cases where origination credit is shared.
Certain qualitative factors should also be considered. They usually include quality of the partner's work and client service. The latter factor is often difficult to measure unless the firm has a client feedback program. If the partner has certain management responsibilities i.e., firm, practice group or office, his or her performance in those roles should also be evaluated. In today's competitive environment, marketing and business development activities are usually on the list. Other qualitative factors that are often considered are pro bono work, community service and associate mentoring and development.
Some evaluation systems involve each partner's submitting a written business plan annually with stated activities and goals. After the evaluation group reviews and approves the plan, it then becomes a covenant between the group and the partner. The major advantage of this approach is that it produces greater buy-in by the partners to the entire process.
Some of the goals in the plan will be quantitative, such as achieving a certain amount of collections or writing a certain number of articles for publication. Others will be qualitative, such as establishing a new practice group or improving associate development. At the end of the year, the partner self-evaluates his or her performance vs. plan and reviews this with the evaluation group.
The self-evaluation is an important ?step. In most cases, they are honest and realistic.
Some of the most effective systems involve other features as well:
The evaluation group first discusses their evaluations with the partner before putting them in writing. This gives the partner the opportunity to react and comment. Then the evaluation is written ?and may include the partner's comments, if any. A copy is given to the partner and, ?in some firms, a copy is also put in a confidential file that is available only to the managing partner as well as the evaluation group.
Partner evaluations are generally conducted as part of the compensation process. If a partner's performance is evaluated against published firm criteria, as well as against the partner's personal goals, the subsequent decision on compensation will generally be regarded as fair and will be accepted by the partner.
There can be other rewards besides, or in addition to, compensation. Appointment to head an important committee or the granting of a sabbatical are just two examples that can result from a favorable evaluation.
Partners who are doing an outstanding job or have performed a valuable service to the firm, such as successfully launching a new practice group or negotiating a desirable merger, should also be recognized throughout the firm. This can be done at firm meetings, in the firm's internal newsletter or by elevating the partner to an important position in the firm.