A performance review isn’t a partner or supervisor’s way of torturing you (usually). It’s a way for your partner or supervisor to review your performance, learn about your accomplishments, set
new goals, and get to know you. More importantly, it is your opportunity to demonstrate your interest in what will make you more valuable to your firm. It is important to do more listening than speaking during a review, but here are a few questions that I suggest you consider asking:
Ask: What do you think went well this year?
Lawyers often expect criticism of the areas that we know we can improve; that’s why it is important to open ourselves up to praise for the things done right. Ask for what went well because this can help the evaluator put the feedback into context. That doesn’t mean to just fish for praise—focus on what you’re going to do next. Move on from the positive and emphasize next steps.
Ask: What should I do differently next year?
This is a better way to frame “what did I mess up this year?” Similar to the tip mentioned above: the point is to focus on the future and what you will do next. Additionally, this frames any criticism into a more constructive light by making it about what you can do moving forward rather than harping on what went wrong.
Ask: What can I do to make it easier on the team?
Though lawyers often work alone, they are usually not completely independent. Team dynamics are important, so take this opportunity to ask for some big picture suggestions on how you can
contribute to the team better. First, you may be unaware of certain behaviors or complaints; second, you may be unaware that some of your issues are quite common; and third, you have created an opportunity to present yourself as willing to take the initiative. Most importantly, this is what your job is: to make the client, partner, or supervisor’s job easier.
Ask: What are our most important goals for next year?
Understanding the goals of the firm and evaluating partners allow you to position yourself accordingly. Also consider asking about what your evaluator thinks you can do to help achieve these goals. You can then follow up by asking for specific factors or action items for the shorter and longer term.
Ask: What opportunities are here for a person with my interest or background?
Demonstrate that you are committed to your team and building your career. You may know what you want to do and where you want to go, but might not know what all the paths are. Asking this type of question allows you to discuss what opportunities for advancement might be available, and essentially toss your hat in the ring and put yourself on the radar.
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