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How do young associates safely pick a bone with the boss? Which is to say, how can you complain without getting fired? Iron-clad anonymity in evaluating partners is the answer. So is working at a firm with partners amenable to serious introspection. With a fair amount of hyperbole, a self-described recovering lawyer said disgruntled young attorneys in his day had a single route to anonymous complaint: “Write it down on a piece of paper, wrap it in a rock with a rubber band, then throw it through the window.” Today there are gentler methods of rating the professional performance and personal behavior of partners and senior counsel. While uncommon in the legal world, law firms that engage in self-analysis at the top — by means of “upward evaluations” or “360-degree reviews,” as they are variously called — are enthusiastic about the positive return on sometimes painful exposure. “We’re like a physician a little concerned about our patient,” said Robert J. Kafin, chief operating partner of New York-based Proskauer Rose, which is now in its third year of upward reviews of partners. “We go to the people whose reviews aren’t so good, and we tell them, ‘This is what associates say about your management style. You should know this.’” Marc A. Persily, a seventh-year corporate associate at Proskauer, said the resultant change has surprised him. “I’ve seen instances [where] problem partners have turned themselves around,” said Persily, 33, a graduate of the University of Virginia Law School. “You hear that people reach a certain age and can’t change. Well, that’s not true. “Three examples stand out in my head,” Persily said of Proskauer partners taken to task in reviews. “Time went by and their reputations were restored, and now they’re a pleasure to work for. That is so refreshing!” 360 DEGREES OF SCRUTINY Those in the higher pay grades at New York’s Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson are under even further scrutiny. In addition to associates, Fried Frank partners are evaluated by the 360-degree model. Peers, more senior partners, legal assistants and administrators all have a say in partner performance. In addition, said Paul Steinberg, Fried Frank associates at the fifth-year level and up are likewise evaluated. “It’s a call to be better,” said Steinberg, acting executive director for the firm’s Office of Associate Affairs. After the 360-degree review, he added, “We have individual coaching sessions, dialogue about the feedback, and practical action steps to take.” Both Proskauer and Fried Frank use outside consultants to provide anonymity that is critical in persuading associates to participate in the voluntary review programs. “Lawyers are very concerned about confidentiality in everything, and that’s a strong, legitimate concern,” said Norman K. Clark, a shareholder in Altman Weil Inc., the international legal consulting firm. For questionnaires used by Proskauer associates, he said, “We use a secured section of our corporate Web site, so the input goes directly to us and we manage the tabulations.” Michael J. Lebowich, a fifth-year associate at Proskauer, said the Altman Weil method alleviates his concern about anonymity. Extremely paranoid associates, he noted, could access the Web site at an internet caf�. “Associates here are not afraid to speak their minds,” said Lebowich, 29, a Harvard Law School graduate who works in the firm’s labor and employment department. “Even though we’re management lawyers, we’re all sort of shop stewards on this.” Once the ratings are tabulated by Altman Weil, they are sent to Proskauer Chairman Alan S. Jaffe, who in turn meets with each partner individually to reveal associate reaction to such questions as: � Does the partner involve associates in client meetings and conference calls? � Is the partner a good teacher? � Does the associate have a “big picture” sense beyond his/her assignments on a case? � Does the partner give constructive commentary and criticism? � Is the partner accessible and responsive? Additionally, Proskauer associates are invited to submit direct comment via the Web site. “You write in a way that’s not identifiable,” said Anita Zigman, director of associate affairs at Proskauer. “And with the Internet, there’s no handwriting to match up.” Joey Silberfein, a fifth-year in Proskauer’s litigation and dispute resolution department, said the upward review program is always evolving. “It’s not as if they’re saying, ‘Okay, we have this process and we’ll just repeat it year after year,’” said Silberfein, 29, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “I give the firm credit for opening themselves up. “If there are partners who don’t treat associates correctly or delegate properly or mentor or teach — and if we can get that message through without being penalized, then that’s a huge benefit for everybody.” PILOT PROGRAM The management of Pillsbury Winthrop plans to launch a pilot program by next July to evaluate partners. To that end, Patrick C. Marshall has studied practices at business firms, where Clark said upward evaluations and 360-degree reviews have been in place for a long while. Unlike Proskauer or Fried Frank, the Pillsbury evaluations would have direct pocketbook consequences for errant partners. “Sometimes people don’t recognize their own failings,” said Marshall, a partner in Pillsbury’s San Francisco main office and chair of the firmwide attorney development committee. “We’ll be identifying those [failings] and doing two things about them: developing specific programs in terms of management training, and, if it gets to be a serious problem, the firm would look at it in terms of compensation.” Just as anonymity is essential to associates in an either the upward review or 360-degree process, delicacy is essential in taking partners to task for shortcomings, Clark noted. “You have the abusive partner, the screamer,” said Clark. “We see a lot of this. That type of behavior may have been quite successful for him — and it is usually a male — and people are scared to death of the guy, and he’s brought in lots of money. “When the elephant trumpets, you dance to his tune. But in the long run, that’s unproductive. “So, we try to bring them to a point where they can see and appreciate the other consequences of their behavior,” said Clark. “There are other results besides people running around scared. There’s diminished productivity, for instance, and high turnover and miscommunication. “If you get out the pad and stopwatch, I can demonstrate that such behavior costs a lot of money.” Both Proskauer and Fried Frank employ psychologists to persuade tact-challenged partners to listen to their better angels. Altman Weil handles such counseling for Proskauer, while Fried Frank relies on Leadership Consulting Associates. Steinberg said reports on Fried Frank partners and senior associates goes to a panel of psychologists and management coaches. In theory, he said, “We have two-hour sessions, but most have gone on for three and four hours because once we get our people talking, they really enjoy the process. “It’s [the review process] not used for anything other than consciousness raising about management skills,” said Steinberg. “The sessions are dialogues about the feedback, and what practical steps might be taken.” PERSONALITY PROFILE To round out the 360-degree process, he added, Fried Frank partners and senior associates are asked to complete the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a standardized personality profile grounded in the precepts of Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung. “It doesn’t reveal your deep, dark secrets. It helps you organize and understand your world outlook and your style,” said Steinberg. “When you’re working with people whose styles are different than your own, it helps you adapt a little better.” But all the standardized testing and all the whizbang computer programs in the world will not necessarily graft on to just any law firm. “It takes more than technology. There has to be a true environment of trust and confidence,” said Clark, a former attorney for the U.S. Navy. “Before we assist a firm, we take a look at the culture. “In some firms, the culture is so toxic that you have conspiratorial associates lying low, thinking their thoughts. If you give them the opportunity, out come the bazookas. “Upward evaluations are not for every firm.”

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