Evaluating Your Performance as a Managing Partner
How should a law firm assess its leader’s performance? From implementing the firm’s strategic plan to strengthening its marketing culture to resolving partner conflicts, there’s a long list of potential evaluation criteria. The guide below can provide a useful starting point.
By Patrick McKenna
There is an old adage about managing a client’s expectations that states, whether we like it or not, we are going to be measured. If we take a passive approach, the measuring stick will be determined by our client. Alternatively, we can help create and shape the measurement criteria.
This same principle is true for you as a new managing partner (MP), especially in dealing with your executive committee (EC). In a way, your partners and the members of the EC now form your expanded client constituency. Working with your colleagues early in your tenure to formulate an evaluation process is a great opportunity for you to manage everyone’s expectations.
The most basic element in structuring any performance appraisal is to first establish the expectations upon which you will be evaluated. Different firms have different expectations of their MP. Without proper clarification, it’s very difficult to conduct an effective evaluation. It’s like trying to hit a moving target. In adopting a format for the MP appraisal, these expectations can be articulated and agreed upon by all involved. Begin with a candid discussion with the EC to identify your goals and objectives. By taking a snapshot of the firm at the beginning of the year and then again at the end, your evaluation can help assess: “Is the firm in better shape as a result of my efforts as the firm leader?” In order to make that assessment, however, you must agree upon the definition of “better shape.”
It is critical that any qualitative and quantitative measures, goals and priorities be established by you and the EC together. The discussion should emphasize what you are expected to achieve (such as increased revenue from a problematic office), where you might need to direct more attention (such as identifying and developing future practice group leaders), and even how you may be expected to behave.
The following list of evaluation criteria can serve as a menu that you can modify, add to, and choose from to develop a list of criteria to suit your needs and the expectations your partners have of you as their firm leader:
Managing partner sample evaluation criteria
1. Does the managing partner communicate to the other partners regularly (at least monthly) and in a meaningful way what he/she is doing and what is going on within the firm?
2. How well has the MP functioned as the firm’s strategic thinker? Does the MP devote adequate time and proper attention to thinking about where the firm should be going, what practice areas should be abandoned or developed, and what new markets should be entered?
3. Does the MP regularly monitor external trends and changes occurring in the profession, participate in relevant associations and practice management conferences, and bring new ideas to the firm?
4. How effective has the MP been in selling his/her new ideas to the other partners?
5. How effective has the MP been at building consensus among the partners, where needed?
6. Has the MP ensured that the firm has developed a written strategic plan that is revisited and monitored regularly, and a well-articulated direction for growth? Does the plan present a healthy blend of long-term thinking vs. short-term results?
7. Does the firm have a written human resources (career and competency development) plan that integrates with the firm’s strategic plan so you can get the right people on the bus, the wrong ones off and everyone in the right seats?
8. Is the MP effective at managing implementation of the firm’s strategic plan? Have written action plans been created, with deadlines and responsibilities assigned? How good is the MP at getting things done?
9. Has the MP made a meaningful contribution to improving the firm’s profitability?
10. Has the MP helped established procedures for achieving partner accountability? Are the partners in the firm truly held accountable for their conduct and performance?
11. Does the firm operate with a team feeling – where partners collaborate, bring others in on their clients, help each other out even if there is no immediate compensation for it, cross-sell each other, and foster a feeling of “team” rather than silos or solos practising under one roof?
12. Has the MP contributed to the development and strengthening of effective practice groups (also formal industry groups or client teams)? Do group leaders meet with the MP on a regular basis to share best practices, identify specific challenges they are facing and learn from each other?
13. Does the MP require all practice and industry groups to develop their own strategic plans? Does he/she hold the groups accountable and have them report, at least quarterly, on their progress in achieving their game plans?
14. Has the MP developed an effective style, methodology and regular discipline of coaching those practice leaders that report to him/her to help them develop and succeed?
15. Does the MP address and resolve partner conflicts and partner performance problems swiftly and effectively?
16. Has the MP’s involvement in the partner compensation systems been effective? Do a strong majority of partners feel the system for allocating income is reasonable and fair?
17. Does the MP make decisions promptly and effectively? Is the MP a good problem solver?
18. Do the partners feel that the MP listens and is genuinely interested in what they are saying? Does the MP encourage partners, and all firm personnel, to express their opinions?
19. How effective has the MP been at identifying lateral candidates, validating their credentials and bringing individual stars and practice groups into the fold?
20. Has the MP made contributions to making the firm a great place to work, where retention is high, training effective, recruiting successful and morale outstanding?
21. Does the MP take decisive action to ensure that the firm’s culture is consistent among the various offices?
22. Has the firm established a strong marketing culture? Has the MP played an important role in making this happen?
23. Has the MP assembled and empowered an effective management team (COO, marketing director, human resources manager, etc.) that performs well and to which the MP confidently delegates day-to-day management duties?
24. Are the basic administrative matters of the firm handled efficiently and in a timely manner (WIP billed, write-offs challenged, receivables collected, timesheets in on time, issuance of internal financials, and monitoring of budgets, etc.)?
25. Does the MP keep the performance bar high on issues of work quality, client service quality and standards, integrity and ethics?
26. Does the MP meet key clients of the firm on a regular basis to get a sense of what is going on in the marketplace and assess the client’s level of satisfaction?
27. Is the MP visible in the community and is the firm represented well? Does the MP help the firm maintain a strong public image and brand identity?
28. Does the MP’s conduct always take the firm’s perspective as opposed to his/her own or that of a particular group of partners?
29. Does the MP set an example and serve as a good role model to partners and staff in the firm for conveying personal respect, being accessible, following the rules, etc.?
These criteria should serve as a starting point for developing your evaluation form. Hopefully this will also get everyone thinking and acting on formalizing the process of professionally managing your firm.
Typically your performance evaluation should occur at least once a year. You and your EC must also agree on the format, timing and responsibilities for the evaluation. The process should begin with you, as the managing partner, preparing a written self-evaluation of your own performance. In mid-December, you might send the EC your assessment of your past performance as well as your plan for the coming year, including personal leadership objectives. By conducting a self-evaluation first, you will likely be more comfortable receiving feedback from the executive committee.
Partners evaluating the MP should be limited to those in a position to offer informed input. This means that in firms of fewer than about 50 partners, all the partners should probably participate. Beyond that size, the firm may wish to limit the evaluation to those partners on the management or executive committee.
Once it has been decided who should participate in the evaluation, each partner should complete an evaluation form. A co-ordinator then tabulates the forms and summarizes the results. The evaluations should be done on a semi-anonymous basis: partners’ names should be on the forms so that the co-ordinator can go back to people for clarification and amplification of responses, but the MP will not know who said what.
A small committee (no more than three partners) should meet with the MP to deliver the results and engage in a discussion about what the goals should be for the following months. This sub-committee needs to present the feedback in such a way that the MP will be able to hear and appreciate the message. A report is then delivered to the full EC regarding the evaluation and outlining the follow-up actions.
An MP’s job can be a lonely one. Some may be reluctant to offer constructive criticism for fear of repercussions. Some may be reluctant to provide feedback for fear of offending you or hurting your feelings. But to be effective you need feedback to confirm whether you should keep doing what you’ve been doing, and to get direction on what your partners expect.
Patrick J. McKenna is an internationally recognized authority on law practice management. He is the author of the e-book First 100 Days: Transitioning A New Managing Partner (NXTBooks, 2006) available for download from his website (www.patrickmckenna.com) and the sequel, Passing The Baton: The Last 100 Days (Ark,2008) – available from Ark Publishing or
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