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It’s time to talk about attorney reviews. Our firm reviews in June — something about not wanting to give bad news around the holidays. Law firms describe the review process as a kind of capstone to their young lawyer development process. The development process, from what I can tell, is critical to a law firm’s survival in at least two areas: 1. by preserving the law firm’s culture and 2. by preserving the law firm’s bottom line. A cynic might say that this development process is really just brainwashing; that the development process is really just Corporate’s attempt transform young talent into billing automatons. But I’m no cynic. I appreciate Corporate’s attempts to make me more professional in my thinking, in my appearance, in my behavior. A law firm struggles to maintain its own personality and young talent, no matter how young or talented, must be molded to fit the firm’s personality. The quality of work isn’t so much the issue. Legal work is easy and can be taught in 15 minutes. But without the development process, who knows how many young attorneys might come to work in jeans, stop cutting their hair, or take on pro bono? Such trends should be squashed like a subpoena. A law firm can’t chance the consequences. But more than just preserving a firm’s culture and personality, the development process stands sentinel for the firm’s bottom line. You see, more than being one of the last standard bearers for the rule of law, a law firm is a business. Like any business, a law firm’s success is measured by profitability. Of course, profitability is, itself, the subject of much debate. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to work on a question of valuation, you’ll know that some people, despite not being GAAP approved, live and die by EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, Amortization). Others swear OIBDA is the only way to go. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was once caught at a cocktail party where the issue came up and two partners on the management committee started screaming at each other until their faces turned red about the merits of differing valuation methods v�s-a-v�s a law firm. The party was a disaster; I had to have my suit cleaned, but watching an inebriated lawyer angrily slur “ebit-duh” at another was some consolation. No matter what nuanced method of evaluating the business you decide to use, all that matters is the bottom line. For law firms, profitability and the bottom line are defined by how much more money the partners get than their neighbors. If the partners get more money than last year, they are the next David Boies. If they get less money than last year, it means you are overpaid. And that’s where the development process and reviews come in. If you are overpaid, a law firm can’t just start paying you less. Think of the market effects. A few weeks ago Cooley Godward made national headlines when it announced that it would pay its first year associates $160k in every office. Right now, every associate in the world is trying to get a gig with Cooley. But if news got out that the national law firm, Wiedu, Scrooum, & Luvitt is lowering salaries, it wouldn’t be able to pay lawyers to interview with them. But with reviews, law firms preserve their bottom lines by smoothly telling associates that, while they are welcome to stay, they are projects and not really worth what they’re paid in the first place. Consider, if you will, a scene from the theater of the absurd: Senior partner: Thank you for running up here, Lowly Associate, I know it’s hard to find time for little meetings like this with all the work we keep giving you. Lowly: [panting and crossing fingers] My pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to help with my development process. Senior: Funny you should mention your development process. That is what we’d like to discuss with you. Frankly, based on the hundreds of written reviews we’ve accumulated, processed and tallied from everyone who has worked with you, we find your development to be a bit retarded. Lowly: [bottom lip quivering but fists balled up in steely determination] That surprises me. How can I improve? Senior: It’s not that we’re unhappy with you’re work, per se. It’s just that, if you want to be a senior lawyer, you can’t make insignificant grammar mistakes in your email. You can’t ever answer the phone yourself, I mean, what’s your secretary for? We have to pay her, too. Lowly: I’m not sure I understand … Senior: [interrupting] That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. You can’t be unsure and you can’t not understand if you’re going to be here long term. And we hope you will be here long term. We like you. We think you’re a good fit. We just think you could stand to improve in some of those areas. Lowly: Like not answering the phone? Senior: Exactly. I don’t think it will be any problem. Like I said, we’re glad you’re here. We plan on you being here for a long time. Expect a raise starting your next pay check, it’s probably less than you deserve, but there were those emails. And you are getting health insurance. Lowly: Can I get what I deserve? Senior: Don’t forget your uncertainty earlier. Lowly: Is that a no? Senior: Thank you, again, for your time. As far as your bottom line is concerned, don’t worry. You won’t be retiring any time soon. But you should know that the results of your attorney review are fictional and any similarity they may have to reality is not your fault. Adam Anderson anxiously awaits his attorney review from Beus Gilbert PLLC in Scottsdale, AZ.

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