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Another year is over, and a new one is underway. For lawyers at The Firm, that means another billable hour goal to meet. It also means it’s time for the annual performance review. As any lawyer who has ever been through the process will tell you, the performance review is far more memorable than the holidays themselves. Ten weeks from now, most lawyers won’t remember what they did for the holidays. Ten years from now, however, they will remember every word spoken during their year-end evaluation. Those about to go through their first year-end performance review may not know what to expect. Fortunately, there is another experience that, by analogy, can help prepare them for the evaluation. An associate’s annual performance review is very much like an annual check-up with a physician. The first similarity between an annual performance review and a physical is that they are not always annual. Some of us don’t make it to the doctor every year and some law firms don’t get around to evaluating their associates on a regular basis. When actually completed, however, the medical and legal check-ups have a number of additional similarities, some of which are described below. During a physical exam, you are required to stand there naked while a stranger pokes and prods trying to find things that are wrong with you. This is strikingly similar to a lawyer’s performance review at The Firm. The only real difference is that, at The Firm, you won’t actually be naked during the evaluation process — you’ll just feel like you are. Don’t expect all the symptoms of either your health or career problems to be easily apparent. You might feel fine when you go in for your medical checkup and still end up having the doctor find something seriously wrong with you. At The Firm, you might think you are doing a fine job — only to be told there is something seriously wrong with you. Even if you are in fact doing a fine job, don’t expect to be praised for it. They have to make it sound as your continued employment is in jeopardy, the better to keep you on your toes and practicing law under the greatest possible stress. After a physical exam is completed, there is always the risk you may be given the bad news that you have only a limited period of time to live. At The Firm, this is known as your severance period. There is, however, one slight difference between the two: Whereas there may be nothing that can be done to prolong your life, you might be able to negotiate a longer severance period. Crying, begging and threatening to sue won’t help you live any longer but these same things can be quite useful in getting your severance period extended. In medicine, it is often helpful to get a second opinion. In law, you are going to get a second, third, fourth and fifth opinion — whether you want them or not. One of the partners completing a form evaluating your performance may, for example, say your writing is very healthy while your analytical abilities are anemic. A second partner may have these two reversed. A third evaluation may tell you something entirely different and equally inconsistent. This is very much like going to three different doctors with the same problem and told by one you are fine, the second that you need an appendectomy and a third that you need to have your foot amputated. After identifying a problem, doctors may be able to tell you what you need to do to alleviate the problem. Often, the recommendation is to rest more and work less. Interestingly, this is the exact opposite remedy recommended to most associates by partners at The Firm. After your physical, the doctor may recommend medication to help your condition. You should take it. You should also take your medicine from the partners. Further, both patients and associates should remember that a clean bill of health is only temporary. No matter how good your health or work are right now, that can change at any time. When things do change, be ready to call an ambulance — or a legal recruiter, as the case may be. The Rodent is a syndicated columnist and author of “Explaining the Inexplicable: The Rodent’s Guide to Lawyers.” His e-mail address is [email protected].

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