How to manage your performance review feedback

February 20, 2019

Do you remember the feeling you got in the pit of your stomach when it came time for your teacher to hand out report cards? It didn’t matter whether you were expecting a good or bad one. You just weren’t entirely sure of what he or she thought of your work until you saw it in writing. The same is true of your annual performance review from law firm. Even if you are confident you’ve been doing exceptional work, feeling stressed out about it isn’t uncommon. After all, this single evaluation may have profound effects on your legal career.

Employers often base their decisions regarding raises, bonuses, and promotions based on performance reviews (depending on your firm’s compensation structure, all or some of these variables may be up for discussion during a review. Check out our Associate Salary Tool for base salary data). They may even use the review process to decide whether, or not, to let an individual go. To let you in on a little secret, many managers dislike performance reviews as much as you do. They may be required due to firm or company policy although most managers would prefer instead to offer feedback more regularly. Ultimately, if you and your superiors have a good working relationship – there should be no surprises when it comes to your review.

However, having a strategy for dealing with your performance review will alleviate some of your stress and could even improve the outcome. As legal recruiters, we’ve spoken with many associates coming out of their firm’s review process – often because they are frustrated or feel their evaluation was unjust – below I offer a few tips to help you manage your feedback and (hopefully) avoid this outcome.

First, Become Familiar with the Evaluation Process

For many, fear of the unknown can be the worst part of the whole review process. Familiarize yourself with how it all works to feel more in control. If this is your first performance review with your current law firm, ask your co-workers what to expect.

It is also essential to understand why many law firms use performance assessments to evaluate their associates. Theoretically, their goal is to provide feedback, communicate expectations, and create a dialogue with associates. In an ideal world, this would be done more frequently than once a year. Unfortunately, far too often, it is not.

Next, Prepare a Self-Review

Evaluate your own performance prior to your formal review. List all your achievements and accomplishments over the last year. (It may be helpful to keep track of them as they occur rather than trying to do it all at once). Be sure to note how your firm benefited from your achievements, for example, higher profits, a bigger client roster, or retention of current clients.

Be specific. For example, indicate the amount by which profits increased, the number of clients brought on board, or the percentage retained. Highlight everything you want to discuss during the review and gather any documentation that will back up your claims. Look over your self-review the night before the meeting so that you will be prepared to discuss all your achievements and accomplishments the next day.

Decide How to Respond to a Bad Review

It may seem counterintuitive to think about what to do if things don’t go well, but it will help you respond effectively to a bad review, if necessary. Develop a plan in advance to avoid making any serious missteps.

The most important thing to do is resist the temptation to react immediately. Instead, ask for a follow-up meeting with your manager a couple of days after your review. Doing this provides you with the opportunity to think about your performance objectively and hopefully calm down. One of two things will happen: you may realize the negative feedback wasn’t as far off the mark as initially believed or you may conclude the review was indeed unjust.

Keep the appointment even if you decide the review was accurate. Use the meeting to go over ways you can improve your performance going forward. It is also worth discussing an unfair review with your manager. Give clear examples that counter the criticisms where appropriate. You may have felt too overwhelmed to discuss your accomplishments during the original evaluation, but this would be a perfect time to bring them up.

After Your Performance Review: Take-Aways

Regardless of the results, a performance review is an opportunity to learn valuable information, whether it is about yourself, your manager or even your practice group. Use any constructive criticism to figure out how to make improvements to your practice over the next year.

After a performance review, some people realize their managers simply were not aware of their accomplishments. From now on, make a point of arranging meetings throughout the year instead of just at review time to keep him or her informed.

Even glowing feedback presents you with an opportunity. It will inform you of what to keep doing and what additional actions can make next year’s review even better.


The Counsel Network, a leading lawyer recruitment firm, has placed associate lawyers with law firms and into in-house roles across Canada. If you’re thinking about making a move, reach out to us for a confidential discussion.


Jordan Priest, Recruitment Associate

647.484.8314 / 403.444.1760

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