JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

Asserting the rights of junior lawyers, who have much more power than they realise.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Performance reviews and what you're worth

"There's a -- uhh -- perception that you tend to be gone by six o'clock," a partner recently told a JLU member in his performance review, again highlighting the dissonance between law firm culture and community norms.

"Well, uh, yeah," the surprised junior lawyer responded, buying time while mentally formulating a defence to what appeared to be some sort of criticism. "I don't see any need to stay for appearances. I get the work done and then I go home."

"I suppose that makes sense," pondered the partner, head tilted to one side. "After all, you might as well just leave a blow-up doll at your desk otherwise." The partner paused for a moment to scribble a note on a form, suggesting the lawyer's prospects within the firm were seriously limited.

It is performance review season in many law firms around the country and that means the faux "firm smiles" stiffen to breaking point and the corporate euphemisms are bandied about with vigour.

Partners find new ways of telling lawyers to work harder and longer and lawyers find new ways of disguising their contempt for partners. Lawyers usually fail dismally. Partners know lawyers despise them and lawyers know partners know. But the door is closed and everyone smiles and makes polite conversation.

Then, at the first lull in conversation, the partner reaches for a checklist, makes like he or she is performing the review under sufferance from "the partnership" and says, "I've been told I have to run through this form -- you know, formalities..."

In some ways this is true. The partner doesn't like having to remind the lawyer to work harder - that's the job of the culture of the firm.

At the conclusion of the performance review, or shortly thereafter, an envelope is handed to the lawyer. The envelope contains a letter and the letter contains a number. All the words and punctuation surrounding the number are entirely irrelevant, save for the dollar sign before the number, which indicates that the number represents the amount the lawyer is to be paid over the coming year. That, comrade, is your value.

Or, put another way, the number represents what is left over once the partners have met, calculated the firm's receipts from the past 12 months, projected the firm's receipts for the next 12, subtracted expenses (office leases, support staff wages, equipment supplies, etc), deducted hefty partnership distributions and determined the scraps to be divided among the lawyers. That number, comrade, is your share of the scraps. It is handed down to you from the table in monthly instalments. Or it would be - if law firms didn't follow the sneaky practice of including superannuation in your "remuneration". So about 91% of it is handed to you. (Minus tax. But you can't blame law firms for that.)

You are then discouraged (and usually contractually barred) from discussing your salary with your colleagues - let alone others in the legal fraternity - lest you discover you might be worth more and decide to take your profit-making skills elsewhere.

Just in case you were wondering, though, Michael Page Recruitment Consultants publishes an annual guide as to what lawyers are getting paid. Its brackets are so broad that they are almost meaningless - but, hey, it's something. Not exactly empowering but perhaps a gap in the shroud of secrecy woven by firms.

You can find it here: http://www.michaelpage.com.au/pdfstore?src=2006_Legal_SalarySurvey.pdf

If you have any performance review stories, let us know at juniorlawyersunion@gmail.com. Also, a quick reminder that, if you wish to join (for free) and receive JLU updates direct to your inbox, send us an email (at the same address) and we'll add you to the list.

Best of luck with your reviews - and, more importantly, the envelopes.


Blogger Legal Eagle said...

I started a new job - was a little nervous about it after a few months - and asked my boss if I was going to have a review.

He growled, "I'll let you know on the spot if I ever have any problems, or if I like your work." That's the kind of review I like.

The other kind of review is total BS. The bottom line is that you are not judged on the quality of work, just how many $$$ you put into the partner's pocket. I got caned in a review for spending a substantial amount of time each day filing and doing administrative work. I pointed out that someone had to do it and my administrative assistant was usually too busy with work from more important people. I suggested that they give me a different admin assistant with more time for a junior solicitor if it troubled them. Do you think anything ever changed? NO!

16 June, 2006 12:51  
Anonymous Expat said...

At where I work (and at most other London-headquartered firms), performance reviews for junior solicitors are a waste of time. Normally anyone under 2 yrs PQE is usually put on a fixed salary no matter what boxes they tick on that stupid form that they fill in.

Below are a few more points about the "evolutionary path" of appraisals throughout one's career:

When you're junior they love giving you BS about "lift off", where they say that they hope that when you're around 2-3 yrs PQE, you will achieve "lift off" (ie can run files with minimal partnerial involvement).

After 2-3 yrs PQE, they then say "now that you have lifted off, we hope you would work more on BD" (ie business development, but I think there are ruder meanings that can be attached to this acronym).

Then, when you're senior, they start giving you this crap about "partnership involves making a personal case and a business case". But there will almost never be any business case because the existing partners are too greedy to share their clients with you and there is a limit as to what clients you can bring in as they always have established legal links.

Here's my rant.

20 June, 2006 16:51  

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