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Providing regular feedback can boost a firm's workflow, morale

When senior members of a law firm provide regular feedback and performance results to its lawyers it can improve workflow and profitability while building a positive workplace, says Toronto legal management consultant Mark Dormer.

“Law firms are generally busy with client work, and it can be a challenge to back up and address performance,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“But often things don’t change unless you confront and correct them, so there needs to be a venue to provide positive feedback and rectify processes that are not working properly.

“This can be a good time to improve workflow and, ultimately, profitability. With these sessions, people don’t feel like they are being ignored, and it can foster loyalty and morale.”

Dormer, owner and president of Cosgrove Associates Inc., says feedback to team members should really be continuous and not restricted to an annual performance review.

“Do not wait up to a year to address concerns; deal with things as they arise,” he says. 

The year-end review should be reserved to provide more of a “big picture look,” and to share the positive changes the lawyer has made during the previous 12 months.

And when issues need to be addressed with work performance, the best way is to open such a discussion with positive comments, Dormer says. 

“Constructive criticism is often viewed as confrontational,” he says. “People tend to avoid it. A good approach is to try to lead the criticism with positive remarks in preparation for the critique. It’s also helpful to have an example handy, if appropriate.”

Often people are not aware of the areas they need to improve so it’s useful to be specific in order to illustrate your points, he adds.

Performance reviews also raise the issue of pay raises, Dormer says.

“Raises are often given on a number of factors, including individual performance,” he says. “This can be addressed as part of the review. However, some firms will contemplate salary increases at the time of the review, but not as part of the assessment.”

Dormer says it’s also important for the firm to carefully consider the most appropriate people to provide performance feedback and annual reviews for lawyers. Sometimes it’s useful for a human resources representative from the firm to be present. 

“Direct managers are usually the best people to provide this type of regular feedback to lawyers, as they are working with the individual on a daily basis,” he says. “HR is often too removed from the group, but generally, someone from HR will team up with the manager for the process.”

Dormer notes that each firm has a different way of addressing the annual review part of the feedback process.   

“Some firms need structure, and others often have an informal meeting with the staff member,” he says.

“Ultimately, it’s best to work with your firm's culture and find the appropriate solution.” 

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