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MEMO TO: SENIOR PARTNER FROM: ANONYMOUS ASSOCIATE RE: UPWARD REVIEW ISSUE Though you haven’t asked, I have investigated the feasibility of instituting an upward review policy at Pinky, Winky & Blinky. Specifically, I have inquired as t 1) whether associates should review partners, 2) what the experience of such reviews has been at other firms, 3) whether upward reviews will improve associate morale, 4) whether they will enhance partner performance, and 5) whether you care. BRIEF CONCLUSION Associates should review partners when pigs acquire the ability to propel themselves heavenward. DISCUSSION PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS In the good old days, men were men, women were scarce, and partners reviewed associates, not the other way around. Then came hippies, marijuana, tie-dye, and the open classroom. Pretty soon, universities got the crazy idea to let students grade their professors. Investment banks followed, and then, in the nineties, the madness spread to law firms. At present, only a few big firms currently take part in “upstream” or “upward” reviews — where junior lawyers rate their seniors — including New York’s Davis Polk & Wardwell, Shearman & Sterling, Willkie Farr & Gallagher, and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; San Francisco’s Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison; and Philadelphia’s Dechert Price & Rhoads. However, Maryann Hedaa of Hildebrandt International Inc., which administers some of the review programs, predicts that at least 20 of the top 25 firms in New York will have instituted them within two years. Methods vary, but one thing is clear: The red pencils are out. Upward reviews may sweep the nation like the Pok�mon craze because, though not as cute, they give associates room to vent, and partners hope that they can stem the dot-com defection. If partners learn something about themselves in the process, so much the better. After all, you can never be too rich, or too scrutinized, though you can be too bald. Shearman & Sterling, which has made a serious effort in recent years to improve associate retention, began doing upstream reviews of both partners and senior associates four years ago. Associates are given forms to fill out that include numerical grading of their betters in various categories like “organization” and “supervision.” The forms also leave room for essay answers and for associates to choose an adjective to describe their supervisors (“grumpy,” “sleepy,” “dopey,” “sneezy,” “doc,” etc.). The data is then compiled by PricewaterhouseCoopers, and given to Hildebrandt, which prepares a report for the firm and for individual lawyers, analyzing trends and identifying “coaching points” for them. Depending on the results, the news is delivered to lawyers by the head of their practice group or, sometimes, the managing partner. Thus, a senior associate whose idea of supervising first-years on a deal is to let them order the lobster might have to change his evil ways if he wants to ascend the corporate ladder. Partners who enjoy tossing books at their underlings may have to switch to BNA softcover supplements exclusively. Indeed, one Willkie Farr associate said that he already noticed a change in partners’ behavior as a result of that firm’s upward reviews: “When the phone rang, [the partner] said he wasn’t going to answer it and interrupt our meeting, because he knows he’s not supposed to do that.” Hey, it’s a start. “It’s not a perfect world,” admits Shearman & Sterling managing partner Whitney Pidot, “but this helps make it a little better.” USES HIS WORDS Upward reviews, however, make associates nervous. “Confidentiality and anonymity are the two greatest concerns,” admits Hildebrandt consultant Charles Douglas. Hildebrandt tries to ease these worries by promising that surveys will be collected by an outside firm, and partners will never see the individual responses. Shearman & Sterling will not give partners an individual review if fewer than three associates respond to the survey. Generally, no one is forced to participate, although it is “strongly suggested.” And while many associates take advantage of the opportunity to grade the graders, many do not. At Shearman & Sterling, the response rate is about 50 percent, though increasing yearly. One Willkie associate said she hadn’t highlighted anything negative about the partners she reviewed because she wasn’t “completely convinced that it couldn’t hurt me.” One Shearman associate refused to fill out the form because he worked for only one partner. “He knows who I am,” said the cautious associate. And where you live. And where your dog lives. GETS GOLD STARS Partners worry, too. “It’s not a witch hunt,” claims Hildebrandt consultant Douglas. But the witches are nervous. “We don’t advocate identifying the bottom [performing] 10 percent,” says Douglas. “We encourage firms to look at the top 10 percent, the highfliers, and see what they’re doing well.” Douglas points out that other companies, like General Electric, have been identifying and successfully rewarding top managers for years. Still, he admits that partners are worried that associates will strike back. Call it the Revenge of the Creatures from the Six-Figured Lagoon. Steven Brown, the designated “associate development partner” at Dechert Price, insists that partners are anxious to find out how they’re doing. “We want to ensure we’re as good at training, mentoring, and feedback as we are at lawyering,” he says. Brown won’t say, however, whether Dechert will tie the feedback to partner compensation. “This is the first year,” he says. “Call me back next year.” Indeed, the only firm I could discover that has put some bite into its upward review process by tying it to compensation is Shearman & Sterling. And even there it is only part of the “performance” mix, one factor taken into account in calculating profit sharing. No firm will commit to a fixed dollar amount based on partner evaluations. CARES TO SHARE So does anyone want to play in the review sandbox? Generally, associates do. Upward reviews give them power, or at least the illusion of power. And while most choose to exercise some caution when reviewing the people who can (and do) make their lives miserable, the very fact they get a chance to talk back makes them happy. “I wish I could have told some of my bosses what I really thought of them,” says one former associate whose firm has yet to be enlightened. “Anonymously, of course.” Partners play along. While some undoubtedly dismiss the reviews as sour grapes, and others fear that tough litigators, like tough teachers, will suffer for their high standards, partners who modify their behavior as a result of a negative evaluation are, ultimately, stronger for their weakness. It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken, and a big man to make a puny man cry. I’m not sure why these chestnuts are relevant, but I do know this: Partners who, as a result of a critical review, subsequently take the time to explain how a document production is done may realize how ridiculous the entire discovery process has become and advocate for change. If compelled by profit motives to sit down with an associate and show her why she cannot quote lyrics from a Dead Can Dance song in a Second Circuit brief, partners may come to appreciate goth rock. Then again, maybe not. CONCLUSION Pigs do not have wings. Associates are not pigs. Therefore, associates can fly. While at first glance this logic may seem skewed, it’s the same reasoning that has successfully convinced firms to adopt upward reviews. Reviews alone, however, are not a panacea for law firms’ ills. They may work, but not without a jet pack. The problem with upward reviews is that they presume associates’ unhappiness can best be addressed by taking a survey. In the end, the survey reports what we knew was true all along: Associates want less work, more feedback. The consultants pack their pencils, the partners pat themselves on the back for their astute observations, and everyone feels like he got his money’s worth and vented. But unless the review is followed with specific, enforceable consequences, it’s just a lot of sound and fury. Nothing is signified. Knowledge is not always power; sometimes it’s just landfill. Upward reviews threaten to become like congressional subcommittees: a way of mollifying constituents. The truly progressive firm, concerned about its employees’ job satisfaction, wouldn’t just take a survey; instead, it would follow through with raises, promotions, and bonuses based on the numbers, and would include paralegals and secretaries in the counting. Reviews are a good start, and fear of the numbers can go part of the way toward reforming behavior, but when it comes to lawyers, money talks. In this way, we would know who gave the best feedback, and who made his associates order the lobster. And we would care. Cameron Stracher is the author of “Double Billing: A Young Lawyer’s Taleof Greed, Sex, Lies, and the Pursuit of a Swivel Chair.”He writes, andpractices media law in New York City.

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