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The e-mail from the human resources department read: “The annual process of evaluating employee performance for the year and establishing goals and expectations for the next review period is beginning. Your input is required by. … ” I once again was being asked to focus on one of the tougher responsibilities of the office of general counsel: How does one fairly and accurately measure the success of an in-house legal staff? According to the experts, proper evaluation of any performance only can be made if the individual or group knows what is expected and how performance will be measured. For example, as is common in most companies, the HR department at Samsung Telecommunications, where I work, provides a structured goal-setting scheme and appraisal process for that purpose. It’s to be used by all company departments, including the legal department. However, legal roles and responsibilities don’t always neatly fit into a standard structure. Goals are supposed to be specific, time-bound and measurable. But quantifiable metrics, such as those by which our business colleagues are judged (quota attainment, revenue production or cost containment), simply don’t apply or aren’t capable of being forecast. And we can’t use client development and hours billed as a yardstick because we typically do not engage in that activity. Instead, in-house counsel and staff are simply expected to be responsive to the natural ebb and flow of business eventualities, making objective targets difficult to develop. As a result, our legal department has adopted a somewhat obvious and more generalized approach to goal-setting. The basic scheme requires annual achievement of global tasks that are tied to each individual’s general work assignments. For instance, if you have an attorney whose job responsibility is to provide legal advice to a given product group, tasks might include product-related contract-drafting, review and negotiation; advertising and collateral review and approval; marketing strategies assistance; and dispute resolution and litigation management. For the attorney assigned to support HR, tasks might include compensation plan drafting and review; participation in employment relations matters, including complex termination and downsizing activity; assisting with the formulation of policies and procedures; benefit plans review; and handling administrative agency matters. A senior paralegal’s tasks might include supervising administrative staff; tracking the department budget; keeping the corporate minute book and litigation log; organizing board meetings; and managing litigation document gathering and production. WAYS AND MEANS While achievement of stated tasks is an important tool in the evaluation process, I’m a firm believer that the measure of a successful legal practice is not only what one does but also how one does it. So you might find it helpful to do what I do. Each member of the legal department also receives the following set of department expectations as a supplement to the established goals: � Strive to facilitate deal-making rather than deal-breaking. Unless prudent business and legal principles demand otherwise, avoid saying no. Instead, provide innovative solutions to the extent possible. � Be responsive/timely. Courtesy counts — respond to e-mails and phone calls preferably on the same day they were sent/placed but no later than 24 hours, regardless of whether a resolution to the problem can be provided by then. Prioritize work so that no client is required to constantly inquire about the status of his file; strive to be proactive in advising your clients about activity on their file. Adopt a sense of urgency; your clients have it. � Practice fairness in completing work assignments. Generally, take assignments in the order they are given to you. Emergencies will arise. Be receptive to moving other work aside to offer assistance. Educate clients on your workload and schedule assignments with them, to the extent possible, to avoid last-minute surprises or the need for other members of the department to respond for you. Anticipate problems/events and arrange in advance how they’re to be handled. � Provide a high-quality work product. Excellence is the objective, not perfection. Be complete, but avoid overworking or over-analyzing your project. Know when to stop. Timing is important and can positively or negatively impact the outcome, so be sensitive to it. When working with third parties, yield on lawful points or language not critical to the business objective unless doing so will increase liabilities and/or decrease rights for the company. � Adopt an open-door policy. Be approachable. Generally, all employees/contractors should have an opportunity to converse with company legal counsel and staff about company business without scheduling appointments well in advance. There is no room for professional or personal arrogance. Being polite, receptive and interested are keys to encouraging clients to use legal department services. � Be a team player. Consider yourself a team member rather than the team leader unless so appointed. You’re always an adviser but rarely a decision-maker. Exercise patience. Communicate clearly using verbal and visual techniques to confirm understanding. Listen actively. Be engaged in the exchange of ideas. Be firm but flexible when principles of law or integrity are not at issue. � Relax. Organize and make full use of each workday. Then make time for yourself, family and friends. Compulsive work habits tend to create tension and fatigue. This lowers the quality of your work product. It leads to ineffective and strained work and family relationships and can take a toll on your health. ASSIGN VALUE To determine the degree of success achieved, identify and assign a value, where possible, to the contribution made by the legal department as a whole. It’s difficult to define, in specific dollar or bottom-line terms, the significance of successful risk and liability avoidance — a major focus of any legal department. But business successes enjoyed by the company (major contracts, dispute resolution or litigation wins, regulatory achievements, important intellectual property registrations, strategic acquisitions and divestitures, etc.) as well as unsuccessful or adverse business results can and should be considered. Then measure the degree of individual goal achievement by determining the extent to which each staff member has affected the outcome. Additionally, seek input from four or five individual clients to whom each of your staff supports. Next comes personal observation. This is the most meaningful method of measuring supplemental goal success. Client feedback should be solicited on a confidential basis to encourage honest and straightforward comment. But the results can be aggregated and generalized, eliminating reference to the client, before being presented to your staff members as part of their review. This is an effective tool in promoting personal and professional growth and serves as a good basis for goal-setting during the following year. Although this performance measurement process is somewhat more subjective than the experts would like, it seems to accommodate the interests and needs of staff members, the department and company. Tasks are clearly defined for the year; a flexible framework is set that allows for response to a constantly changing business environment without changing objectives; and reasonable standards against which to gage performance are established. When the legal staff is given feedback on the significance of its role in the furtherance of business successes and rewarded accordingly, watch for an interesting byproduct — a renewed and strengthened interest in partnering with clients to meet their needs more efficiently and effectively. Creating this outcome is the best measure of a successful in-house legal staff.

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