Attorney Performance

Attorney performance is a combination of several factors. The right compensation and incentives coupled with a robust amount of transparency will help motivate hardworking lawyers and make them more secure in the belief that their hard work will pay off. Not far behind compensation and incentives is the need for a clear progression path and the tools and training. Finally, a strong communication process that ensures attorneys receive regular performance feedback is essential.

We regularly design attorney performance programs that include compensation and benefits, practice planning and guidance, progression policies, and processes for improving communications.

We can engage with you on a project level or as part of longer-term attorney performance improvement and monitoring relationship. The structure of these agreements can include in-person visits, regularly scheduled or ad hoc calls, email support, performance analysis, templates, and report style communications. We can work on improving a single lawyer’s performance or an entire firm.

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Benefits

What can you accomplish from and focused attorney performance approach and what can PerformLaw do for you?

The Process

What is involved in an attorney performance engagement?

Resources

Where can I learn more about the topics I might want advice about?

Benefits

The confidence of knowing you are doing it right. Clients who engage PerformLaw to improve attorney performance get objective, experienced, and practical advice.

The ability to implement attorney performance improvement actions. Use of our tools, templates, processes, market awareness and creative plan design expertise are included in the engagement.

A solution for the long term. Attorney performance engagements include customized policies, procedures, forms, and templates for your organization..

The comfort of knowing that your best people can thrive and prosper in your system. Attorney performance engagements include a complimentary high-level strategic plan to ensure that we help you align your new systems with your strategic goals.

What PerformLaw can do for you:

  • We help clarify goals and expectations (Strategy).
  • We consult on the best tactics to achieve the goals (Identification of tasks and association with goals) and provide tools and processes.
  • We ensure clients have the information they need to make informed decisions.
  • We offer relevant and timely advice in all the key law firm management areas.
  • We are available when clients need us before, during and after an engagement.

THE PROCESS

CULTURAL ASSESSMENT

Certain aspects of a firm’s culture can weigh more heavily than money when it comes to the success or failure of a relationship with a motivated lawyer. Small and mid-sized firms who typically offer a narrower scope of opportunities have to work harder to create cultural factors that outweigh the perceived benefits in larger firms.


In this phase of creating an ARM system, we recommend soliciting input from all attorneys in several key areas including:


Recruiting and retention

Communication and feedback

Comprehension of the firm’s core values, mission, and vision

The employee experience

Work/life Blend

New employee orientation, onboarding, and integration processes

Attorney development

Performance management

Transition planning and long term outlook

Compensation and incentives

Non-monetary and traditional employee benefits

Goal

Everyone should understand the culture of the firm today and the plan for making it better

Objective

Ensuring that the firm’s culture is a benefit to the recruiting and retention process

Process Steps

Survey all or a representative sample of attorneys and key staff

  • Management Survey
  • Attorney Survey
  • Staff Survey (If Applicable)

Meet with all or a representative sample of equity owners in follow up interviews

Equity owner interviews (In-person or web-based)

In-person (on-site)

Video and voice calls

Meet with all or a representative sample of non-owner attorneys in follow-up interviews

Now equity owner attorney interviews (In-person or web-based)

In-person (on-site)

Video and voice calls

Meet with all or a representative sample of staff in follow up interviews

Support staff interviews (In-person or web-based)

In-person (on-site)

Voice and video calls

Meet with all or as applicable management in follow up interviews (In-person or web-based)

Management interviews

In-person (on-site)

Video and voice calls

Deliverables

A concise presentation of cultural factors ranked by perceived importance and the firm’s scoring in each area. Summary of feedback and recommendations.

Cultural factors ranking and grade

Recommended improvement steps

Implementation plan

Project Responsibilities

Client

Have all attorneys and select staff complete the cultural assessment survey, make a representative sample of the employee and partner groups available for interview.

PerformLaw

Administer and evaluate survey results, coordinate with inhouse support to ensure a smooth discover process, tabulate and analyze results, identify strengths and improvement areas.

CONSIDERATION OF ECONOMIC FACTORS AND PROFITABILITY

Economic factors are not viewed in isolation but are afforded significant weight. Poor profitability is an indication that a lawyer is struggling in the firm’s environment. Struggling lawyers often suffer from poor business hygiene, weak work ethic, poor training, insufficient supervision or mentoring , or lower quality work. Strong profitability is often an indication that a lawyer has gained enough valuable skill sets to thrive in the firm’s existing environment. Profitable lawyers may also benefit from preferred client and case assignments, which is a potential fairness issue.

Goal

Everyone should understand the drivers of profitability and have the ability to improve their results.

Objective

To evaluate the factors that affect profitability. To address inconsistencies in pay and performance that could lead to turnover.

Process Steps

Evaluate historical timekeeper profitability

Compare compensation analysis by demographic

Bar date, tenure, job title

Compare profitability analysis by demographic

Bar date, tenure, job title, supervising partner, and client quality

Identify trends

Deliverables

Detailed analysis of timekeeper profitability

Individual attorney profitability calculations to include direct costs (salaries and benefits), secretarial or support staff, and general overhead. Comparative cost per hour and target profit margins by job type and practice area.

Comparative compensation analysis by key demographics

Analysis of compensation based on demographic factors to identify any inconsistencies or preferences (fair or unfair). Search for positive and negative trends.

Comparison of profitability and turnover

Determine if any correlations exist between profitability and turnover and potentially explain turnover in economic terms.

Review key profitability drivers related to former attorneys and their replacements - determine if the replacements are better.

Action plans for improving profitability

A concrete set of recommended actions geared to improving profitability.

ASSESSMENT OF PERFORMANCE EVALUATION SYSTEMS

Once a firm gains a clear understanding of each lawyer’s financial performance and pay level, it is necessary to look deeper into performance in qualitative areas. We recommend measuring the progress of each lawyer, including those who have left in the last five years, against a model set of criteria. Firms who have not taken the time to document the necessary practice skills and the expected timeline (model criteria) for developing these skills should undertake that process first.


Performance evaluation systems, properly administered, can ensure attorneys have the information they need to succeed in their roles.

Goal

Everyone should understand how they are doing and have the information they need to progress.

Objective

To ensure that the firm has the necessary evaluation tools and processes to reduce the likelihood of losing successful lawyers from inadequate performance measurement systems.

Process Steps

Create/revise model criteria

Review the existing evaluation process, forms, reports, and communication methods

Complete summary evaluations using model criteria of all attorneys

Retroactively rate attorneys who left the firm in the prior five years

Analyze evaluation results (individual and demographic trends)

Deliverables

Individual attorney assessments using model criteria - ahead of or behind expectations

An assessment of each attorney using uniform or model criteria to indicate the practice level of each attorney and whether they are ahead of or behind expectations.

A supportive planning document for each lawyer to help them progress

A model template tool to help develop progression plans for each lawyer.

Insights regarding attorney turnover

A summary of observations and recommendations to mitigate turnover and foster career growth.

Updated model associate criteria

Summary of the most important legal and professional skills based on proven success factors along with an ideal timeline for attaining these skills.

Career progression guidelines and promotion criteria

An improved performance evaluation system

EXPANDED COMPENSATION AND INCENTIVE PLANS

Fairly compensating and promoting nonowner lawyers (associates, income partners, counsel, of counsel, etc.) is best accomplished using a structured process. We suggest a transparent process that includes:


Written compensation and total reward policies and guidelines

Practice relevant evaluation criteria

Incentives for lawyers to contribute economically and strategically


Additionally, a reward system is most effective and credible when lawyers and firm members can easily comprehend the results of the process. It is important that the firm commit to a pay-for-performance work environment.

Goal

Everyone should understand who is getting ahead and why.

Objective

To develop a compensation structure that promotes long term success and establishes a clear connection between behavior and compensation.

Process Steps

Define compensable factors (objective and subjective)

Schedule salary evaluations and bonus payments

Develop process for setting and adjusting base salaries

Develop process for calculating objective and subjective bonuses

Customize total compensation and rewards statements for each lawyer

Set guidelines and policies regarding any objective formulas.

Evaluate any applicable alternative compensation plans

Create of support tools

Deliverables

Written compensation policies, guidelines, and structure

Preferred Compensation Metrics

Individualized total compensation memos

Support tools to ensure that the plan is administered properly

Support tools to ensure that the plan is administered properly

PRACTICE PLANNING PROCESS

A solid practice planning process will help guide the right people to the right roles in their firm. It will also ensure that individual lawyers strategically consider their career choices while there is still time to make changes. The practice planning process should start in the first year a lawyer is hired. A well-structured process will help ensure that all lawyers receive senior-level attention, feedback, and direction. It can also help reduce the possibility of overlooking talented lawyers. The process also helps identify those attorneys who can progress more quickly and those who may not fit.


The strategic elements of the process include:


Goal setting and expectation management

Performance management

Role definition and success plan

Periodic two-way feedback

Goal

Objective

To develop a strong career development process for attorneys; to better retain the right attorneys; to improve attorney performance.

Process Steps

Select approach: Structured using demographic criteria or bespoke from individual attorney roles.

Develop hourly guidelines (client work and non billable): Consult the firm’s economic model, budget, client needs, and model attorney criteria.

Define individual goals and expectations that align with business objectives

Prepare each plan using suggested activities by demographic or individually defined activities

Individual attorney meetings and feedback schedule

Macro capacity (total firm) plan informed by individual plans

Deliverables

Written practice plan for each attorney and follow-up schedule

Alignment between attorney and firm goals

More informed budgeting and forecasting processes

TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT SOLUTIONS

Law firms are more likely to identify their future leaders and implement succession plans when they initiate a training process early in a lawyer’s career. Focusing on attorney development early also gives law firms a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining the most talented lawyers.


The goals of an attorney development system include:


Enable lawyers to reach their full potential faster;

Align personal and business objectives;

Raise average lawyer performance;

Improved client service; and

Stronger profitability.


To achieve these goals, we recommend an approach that includes a combination of in-house and external resources. Smaller firms may have to rely more heavily on external training, which requires a focused approach to ensure affordability.

Goal

Enabling lawyers to reach their full potential faster

Objective

To increase profitability, reduce turnover and achieve better client service.

Process Steps

Create the training program scope (legal skills, practice skills, client service, marketing, etc.)

Select training approach (online, written, personal instruction, in-house custom, external, etc.)

Create training budget

Produce group and individual training plans

Develop compensation plan for training contributions

Evaluate mentoring approach and feasibility of a mentoring program

Deliverables

Program strategy, goals and expectations

Training plans, budget, and delivery method

Attorney and group training plans

Rewards system for attorneys who provide training

Recommended mentoring program

RECRUITING AND HIRING PROCESSES

Recruiting and hiring processes are often a candidate’s first introduction to a firm. It is important to take full advantage of the opportunity to make a positive first impression. A well-defined recruiting strategy, with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion. And a thorough hiring process can help improve the chances of hiring good fit candidates.


The goals of a law firm recruiting and hiring process include:


Attract new graduates and lateral hires who fit into the practice and culture of the firm

Successful hiring of the best candidates

Sending a positive message about the trajectory of the firm


Strategic recruiting requires a firm to carefully consider the most important attributes of a successful attorney. Some firms review their previous attorney hires and develop model or role specific criteria. Other firms focus more on academic credentials first and personality traits second. It is equally important to consider the best candidates who can help the firm compete in the modern legal environment.


Smaller firms must take a more deliberate approach because they have a lower tolerance for turnover costs and disruption. Regardless of firm size, everyone benefits from a strong recruiting and hiring process.

Goal

Attracting and retaining best fit lawyers whose association with the firm transcends money

Objective

To identify, attract and successfully hire attorneys that fit the practice and culture of the firm

Process Steps

Devise a recruiting strategy (prospective, need based, targeted)

Create/revise hiring criteria - new law school graduates

Create/revise hiring criteria - lateral hires

Evaluate diversity and inclusion policies

Document hiring processes including policies and procedures

Construct interviewing guidelines, rules, process tools, and interview scripts

Consider incentives and rewards for recruiting contributions

Evaluate policy and management plan for headhunters and recruiters

Develop a hiring plan and budget

Deliverables

Strategic recruiting plan

Comprehensive hiring criteria

Documented interviewing and hiring processes

Updated policies and protocol for managing outside recruiters

Written recruiting incentive plan (if adopted)

Annual hiring plan and budget

THE EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE

The employee experience or firm life, has a tangible impact on employee satisfaction. Beyond pay, benefits and case assignments, how a firm is run, communication systems, and how easy or difficult it is to interact with firm owners, management, administrative staff, and third party providers, can have a positive or negative impact on firm life. Ease or difficulty of tools (software, ergonomics, technology, etc.) and processes can also impact the employee experience. For example, firms using outdated technology may lose motivated attorneys who fear their skills sets will diminish if they stay.


If daily life at the firm creates friction and anxiety, reduced productivity and even turnover can result.

Goal

Creating a natural inclination toward collaboration and service

Objective

To ensure that firm life is a positive and nurturing experience

Process Steps

Define and determine feasibility of important firm life factors

Score the firm’s performance in key firm life areas

Solicit input from all attorneys and staff

Identify improvement areas

Organize exit interviews (where possible) for all people who have left the firm in the last 3 years

Deliverables

Firm life improvement plan

Ongoing feedback system

Exit interviewing policy and system

Communication protocol - informal and structured

WORK/LIFE BLEND

Associates are often balancing what may seem like impossible demands on their time. Financial pressures related to student loans and cost of living, family commitments, or demanding work relationships, can all make staying focused at work a challenge. As a lawyer matures and builds a good support network, balancing work and personal commitments become more manageable.


Firms who care about their lawyers on this level and offer structural support and advice can build goodwill and morale among their lawyers. Providing access to resources in the areas of financial counseling, family counseling, managing conflicts, change management support, and career coaching are all helpful.


Flexible schedules, remote working, and health, welfare and retirement benefits are also key to work/life blend programs. We also recommend referring more serious counseling services including substance abuse, work-related harassment, and other more difficult challenges to trained human resource professionals and attorneys.

Goal

Everyone should appreciate the firm is concerned for their total well-being

Objective

To create a work/life blend environment that goes beyond the typical work for pay approach

Process Steps

Survey the attorneys to solicit input on the most useful services and benefits

Design policies with a strategic focus on young lawyers including parental leave, remote work, dress code

Develop self-help tools and resources guide

Evaluate and select a network of potential professional resources to assist with providing services

Assess the costs of the program and services provided

Deliverables

A customized work/life blend program for your unique practice and culture.

Written personal development and career advancement services and usage guide

Published self-help and resource options

Financial support document outlining the firm’s financial commitment to the program and costs to participants as applicable.

ADVANCED COMPONENTS

Once a firm addresses the initial foundational components mentioned,it can begin to develop a bond with their people that transcends money. This can be done by advancing the development of the Attorney Relationship Management System.


In addition to a healthy culture, a solid economic model, and effective performance evaluation systems, we recommend implementing advanced components such as Practice Planning Process, Expanded Compensation and Incentive Plans, A Training and Development Solution, Recruiting and Hiring Processes, and Work/life Blend Programs. The Employee Experience and Personal Development and Career Counselling Services. All these components when properly managed, can lead to more successful long-term relationships, a more efficient use of time and resources, and better hiring and advancement practices.

Goal

Taking the attorney relationship to a much deeper and more successful level

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