Hogan Lovells CEO Steve Immelt.

Adapting to the shifting expectations of younger lawyers, Hogan Lovells is overhauling the way it provides feedback to associates.

Rather than relying on yearly performance reports to deliver feedback, the firm worked with consultants to create a program it’s dubbed “Pathways.” The new scheme directs associates to proactively seek input from partners and other firm professionals about their performance throughout the year.

The 2,600-lawyer firm is scrapping it’s annual review-based approach after spending 18 months testing different methods at its offices around the world.

“When it came time to make important decisions—who should be advanced, who should become a partner—we never went back and read the reports because they were in a sense detached from the process of managing development,” said Steve Immelt, Hogan Lovells’ Washington, D.C.-based CEO. “We thought the system we had was broken in a number of respects and not really delivering what our people needed and wanted.”

Immelt acknowledged that the shift would require some adjustment for lawyers accustomed to the old system. “Even saying that the old system was broken didn’t mean that this was the right solution,” he said. “This does change the approach, and we all know how lawyers don’t like things to change, so we wanted to be sure this was going to be an approach people would adapt and pick up.”

One of the biggest differences under the new program involves something the firm has labeled “flash feedback.” Allison Friend, Hogan Lovells chief human resources officer in the Americas, said the flash feedback component requires associates to go get three pieces of feedback from co-workers every four months. Friend said the exercise prompts associates to identify trends related to what others in the firm are working on, and cultivates more dialogue and engagement between lawyers.

Friend said the decision to shift the firm’s approach wasn’t motivated by other competitors’ actions, but many Big Law firms have begun changing their practices in recent years.

Seeking constant performance evaluations is a characteristic of millennial attorneys that many firms have identified, and Hogan Lovells is making changes as firms everywhere are looking to cater to a younger demographic in their recruitment and development efforts.

While several firms, such as Blank Rome and Reed Smith, told ALM last year that they didn’t expect to entirely eliminate annual reviews, many firms are still looking for new ways to provide feedback that associates need.

Reed Smith was testing a real-time feedback app for associates last year, and Drinker Biddle added quarterly performance reviews on top of its annual appraisals a few years ago.

U.K. firm Slaughter and May recently overhauled its associate appraisal system, with performance scores replaced by more ongoing feedback and mentoring by dedicated ‘continuity’ partners, while Baker McKenzie dropped annual appraisals and performance ratings for all fee earners and staff at the end of the 2016-17 financial year.

Hogan Lovells has already rolled out its Pathways program across its global offices, and the firm said it will expand the initiative to include the firm’s business services staff next year.

Leaders at Hogan Lovells were mum on the precise tools that would be used in the Pathways program, but noted that it was developed in consultation with hundreds of the firm’s lawyers and with the input of IDEO, a global design company. The firm said the program would not directly feed into decisions about bonuses, other compensation, or partner promotions.

“Pathways is focused on growth and development, not compensation. We’ve separated the feedback process from conversations about compensation,” Friend said. “As to partnership, it doesn’t determine who is on a partnership track. However, we do talk regularly with associates in the program about what paths they want to take, including partnership.”

Whatever effect the new program has on Hogan Lovells’ development and retention of associates, Immelt said he hopes it will give everyone at the firm a better sense of how they fit in to its business.

“You find in the law firm setting that people have very high expectations, very demanding, but there’s not only a reluctance at times to give constructive feedback but also a reluctance to give positive feedback,” Immelt said. “So by trying to change that rhythm … it’s just another way we as a firm are trying to adapt to a modern workplace with a modern group of associates who have different expectations than I had many years ago when I was a young associate.”