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Partners who treat their associates like slaves and give them little feedback on how well they are doing may soon become as rare in large Texas firms as manual typewriters and onionskin paper. The use of 360-degree reviews could end the reign of grouchy, aloof partners with reputations for dumping complicated projects on associates’ desks on Friday afternoons. Firms hope the 360 reviews will help change the behavior of their inconsiderate partners. The ultimate goal is preventing highly trained associates from abandoning firms for more pleasant work environments. A few Texas firms, including Susman Godfrey, Baker Botts and Winstead Sechrest & Minick, are asking associates and staff attorneys to review the job performances of the partners they work for in an effort to find out how well the partners are training and mentoring the young lawyers. The review process is not widespread in Texas. Locke Liddell & Sapp and Andrews & Kurth don’t use 360 reviews. Neither do Vinson & Elkins and Bracewell & Patterson, although the topic has been discussed at both firms. Bracewell & Patterson managing partner Patrick Oxford says he sees how the reviews can be a useful management tool. “It’s not so much the merits of the review as how much time would it take. Is it worth downtime from work?” Oxford asks. James Reeder, hiring partner at V&E, says it would be a cumbersome process at a large firm. “There is great skepticism about the ability to engage in any type of evaluative process anonymously. You don’t want to do something that you believe would be worthwhile if nobody participates in it,” Reeder says. Houston consultant William Cobb says 360 reviews are a valuable tool to help firms reduce turnover. They allow firm management to identify and address problems while they are occurring, rather than when it’s too late, and unpleasant working conditions have prompted associates to find work elsewhere, he says. “It allows the executive committee to go to a partner and say, ‘You really need to fix this or we need other people to supervise your project because you aren’t doing a very good job,’ ” he says. It doesn’t need to come to that, suggest lawyers at Susman Godfrey and Baker Botts, who say peer pressure is powerful. “We have a really competitive bunch here, and these things have become another source of competition for the partners,” says Robert Rivera, hiring partner at Susman Godfrey. “There’s how much business you bring in, how much [money] you win and what do the associates think,” he says. The same is true at Baker Botts. “Our partners are very competitive, the most competitive people I know of, so they just can’t stand not getting a good score,” says Gregory Nelson, head of Baker Botts’ attorney development committee. Since 360 reviews started at Susman Godfrey in 2000 and Baker Botts in 1999, most of the partners ended up with favorable marks, although some partners didn’t do so well. Those partners are working on improving in those areas where associates found fault, the firms report. “I think we’ve seen some behavioral change,” says Richard Johnson, managing partner of 605-lawyer Baker Botts. “There are always a couple of partners who need to improve in how they deal with associates. The reaction of those partners to these things has been great,” says Stephen Susman, a partner in 52-lawyer Susman Godfrey. Rivera says the positive comments from the nonpartner lawyers at Susman Godfrey are just as constructive as the negative ones. PARTNER PERFORMANCE Nonpartner lawyers at Susman Godfrey were asked to review the firm’s partners in 2000 and 2001. The first year, each partner received a detailed report of his performance review, but a complete report went only to the executive committee. That gave the partners a year to “clean their act up,” Susman says. But in 2001, a complete report went to all partners. According to a summary of 2001 results, nonpartners at Susman Godfrey believe partners give them sufficient responsibility 94 percent of the time. As far as teaching skills go, the reviews indicate the nonpartners learned a lot from partners 87 percent of the time. But 11 percent of the time they can’t recall learning much, and 2 percent of the time they fear they had learned the wrong things. Also, 75 percent of the nonpartners report regular feedback, but 21 percent report they seldom get it, and 4 percent say they never get it. Questions about their level of satisfaction at the firm indicate nonpartner lawyers at Susman Godfrey have a very rewarding experience 76 percent of the time, and a satisfying enough experience 20 percent of the time. But 3 percent of the time, they would like to work with someone else, and 1 percent of the time they would like to see some improvement in the performance of partners. The nonpartners say they would hire Susman Godfrey partners 69 percent of the time for significant personal matters, although they say they would go elsewhere 3 percent of the time. Susman says three of the firm’s partners got “less than great” reviews in 2001 from the nonpartners who work for them. In two cases, it wasn’t surprising to Susman. “You kind of hear through the grapevine or suspect where you could have problems,” he says. So how did Susman fare? “I got fine results,” he says. “The baddest thing that anyone said was sometimes he’s gruff or abrupt and I need to be a little more patient. That’s a legitimate criticism, so I’m trying.” BEGINNING A NEW ERA The process began in 1999 at Baker Botts, where nonpartners in the firm’s Houston office evaluated the partners in a test run of 360 reviews. It was done firmwide in 2000 and 2001, although results for this year aren’t expected to be ready until later this summer. The idea for 360 reviews came out of the firm’s attorney development committee, which considers retention issues, says Nelson. The Baker Botts partners receive a number grade on a scale of one to four. Nelson says up to 15 percent of the partners received perfect 4.0s on the 2000 reviews; a score of 2.3 was the lowest. The individual partners are given copies of written comments about them as well, he says. The score is one item considered in partner compensation, Johnson says. (That’s not the case at Susman Godfrey.) “If there’s a serious deviation, it could affect whether a partner’s compensation increases or perhaps decreases. If it’s a fairly average performance, it could be used to affect the pace of one’s improvement in compensation,” he says. The Baker Botts partner evaluation form asks an associate to grade a partner on his office demeanor and approachability; feedback, training and development; work assignments and project management; and asks for an overall assessment of whether he would want to work with that partner in the future. Maria Boyce, a Baker Botts litigation partner who serves on the attorney development committee with Nelson, says that based on what partners tell her, the majority of the partners in the firm think 360 reviews are useful. “They have accepted it with little rancor,” Johnson says. “I suspect there’s some that may feel that it’s a little bit Mickey Mouse, but it’s not.” Boyce says she received mostly positive comments in her review, with associates reporting she is easy to work for and gives them feedback on their performances. But on the negative side, Boyce admits some complained she wasn’t always as quick to respond to questions as they would like. “That in and of itself has helped me because I make sure [now] for clients, as well as associates, to make sure my secretary knows where to reach me at all times. That’s a little thing I knew to change,” she says. Nelson, a tax partner, says he was pleased he received scores of 3.8 and 3.9 in the reviews. Although he isn’t directly supervising associates and wasn’t directly rated, Johnson says the firm’s management is critiqued. “They were not all positive comments, as you might imagine. Frankly, it smarted a bit, but it’s supposed to,” he says. At Dallas-based Winstead Sechrest, 360 reviews are just beginning. The approximately 35 associates in the firm’s corporate securities section recently completed a 360 review of the 30 shareholders in the section. Thomas Hughes, head of the section, says he and another shareholder in the section will soon meet individually with each shareholder to tell them how they fared. The comments will not be shared with firm management or other shareholders in the section, he says. The questionnaire was designed by associates in the corporate securities section and seeks to grade the shareholders on areas such as how well they articulate directions, how reasonably they set deadlines and how well they provide feedback. “Overall it was quite positive. It probably showed that two-thirds of our shareholders do a good job in the area, probably one-sixth do an outstanding job, and the other one-sixth have some improvement to do,” Hughes says. If the shareholders in the section decide the reviews were worthwhile, Hughes says they may ask the firm’s executive committee to adopt it for the entire firm.

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