Maximize Law Firm Associate Performance

March 14

Most law firm partners would admit they would like to get more engagement from their associates. Most associates would admit that they would like more satisfaction from their work. Aligning these desired objectives requires involves a committed effort, the right systems, and the right people. The combined effort is worth it,  yielding a happier workplace where everyone works together to produce results.  

PerformLaw advises law firms to develop an associate development system with the components outlined in the table below.  We break down the various parts of the system to include recruiting effectiveness, associate quality, work ethic, suitability for the role, training and mentoring, clear expectations, compensation and incentives and process and feedback.  We detail each of these components in separate blog articles. 




The overall goals of any performance management system include the following: 

  • Identifying and encouraging model associates,
  • Nurturing those best suited to serve the firm’s clients,
  • Enabling associates to reach their full potential and
  • Providing a basis for early identification of those who would perform better in another role.


When considering associate performance, the following factors are relevant:

  • Quality of the associate
  • Hiring criteria
  • Suitability for the role
  • Quality of training and mentoring
  • Clarity of expectations
  • Compensation and incentives
  • Process and communication


Distinguishing between the qualities that add short and long-term value to a firm and encouraging the right behaviors will produce the best results. As a general rule, we encourage law firms to consider associate contributions in the following way:



Building Long-Term Value Profit Contributions
More salary emphasis Less salary recognition
Less bonus recognition More bonus recognition
Equal advancement weight Equal advancement weight


Measurable Increases and Contributions

Consider the subjective and objective factors indicated in the table below to inform salary and bonus decisions.

Quality of professional work (capability) Personal profitability
Client relations and service Profitability to others (leverage and supervision)
Personal development Client profitability (to include originations)
Business development competence Recruiting profitable lawyers
Professional recognition  
Training contributions  
Adding to the reputation of the firm  




As an advisor to law firms, PerformLaw recommends a process that is supported by a combination of empirical tools that include written practice plans, regular feedback, work product reviews, progress assessments against performance benchmarks and mentoring.