What You Need to Know About the Professional Review Process

Vol. 17 No. 9


Maria A. Maras is a partner in the intellectual property department at Kirkland & Ellis LLP in Chicago, Illinois. She may be reached at maria.maras@kirkland.com.

When starting a new job, whether at a firm, non-profit, government agency or company, young lawyers often neglect to consider a critical part of the job process: the professional review. Gaining a clear understanding of this process—well in advance of the actual review—can make the difference between a stressful and a satisfying experience.

Here are four key questions that you should ask before review time rolls around:

When will I be reviewed? Find out when and how often you will be reviewed. A typical review cycle is either 6 or 12 months long, and some organizations add an extra review cycle for new or lateral hires. Planning ahead will reduce your anxiety.

Who will review me? Find out who is eligible to review you and whether you or the organization selects your reviewer(s). Usually, the people eligible to review you are those who satisfy certain criteria—typically a specified level of authority combined with sufficient familiarity with your work. At a firm, this group may include senior associates or partners, while in other settings, direct or indirect managers may complete your review. Some organizations may allow you to select who will review you, assuming they meet the criteria for a reviewer. Knowing your reviewer(s) will help you prepare. For example, it is critical that your reviewer knows what value you added to a particular case, deal or project. If you do not have regular contact with your reviewer, set up a time to discuss your work and tactfully remind those with whom you do have regular contact to make sure that they are accurately describing your contributions to your reviewers.

What type of information do I provide? Find out what information you are asked to contribute to the review process. Attorneys may be asked to fill out a survey or questionnaire regarding their activities (billable or otherwise) during the review period. The length and nature of these surveys varies, so it can be extremely helpful to see a sample in advance. If you are expected to fill out a summary of your work, keep a running list of your projects, including level of responsibility and outcomes, throughout the review period. You will be surprised at how little you remember in December of the project that consumed you in January.

Ask someone you trust for advice on what approach to take when answering and, if appropriate, ask to see an example of what he or she has submitted in the past. Your responses provide an opportunity to market yourself and to present your work in a way that highlights your career development. Below is a bare-bones description contrasted with one that emphasizes leadership skills and provides additional detail.

Original description: I wrote several motions.

Revised description: I researched and drafted several pleadings, including multiple Daubert motions, other evidentiary motions, and a successful opposition to a motion for summary judgment. I also supervised the filing of these motions.

Remember, it is important to gauge the organization’s culture and to show good judgment in describing your work. No one expects a first-year associate to be running the case or deal, and falsely claiming that you did is likely to backfire.

How will I receive feedback? Find out how the results of your review are communicated to you. You may receive feedback in person or via telephone, verbally or in writing, from one or more individuals within or outside your department. If permitted, ask questions. This is an opportunity for you to ask not just about your work over the past year, but also about the skills that you should be developing over the next few years. This shows that you are thinking strategically about your career. If you do not receive feedback in writing, take notes about the feedback you receive shortly afterwards so that you can refer to it later.

Feedback may include a qualitative and/or quantitative component, such as comments or a rating of some kind. Understand ahead of time what each type of component means for you going forward. For example, all new hires may generally receive the same rating given the difficulty in differentiating among attorneys at the earliest stages of their careers.

Armed with the answers to these questions, you will be well prepared for your first professional review and the many that follow.

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