Attorney performance reviews are stressful—period. You would think that attorneys would be better
equipped to handle performance reviews (after all, they’re used to presenting arguments before
a judge right?), but most are more critical of themselves than their evaluators.
Part of what makes a performance review so stressful is that attorneys are suddenly not in
control—they can’t shout “objection” or file a motion to suppress evidence—and it is precisely
that sense of being subject to the scrutiny of an evaluator that increases their level of
Consider looking at performance reviews as opportunities for you to take control of how you are
presented to your supervisor. With some focused effort and self awareness, you too can take on
the challenge to turn things around. Below, I share some tips so that you can position yourself to
use your performance review as an opportunity to highlight your strengths, as well as process
feedback in a manner that fuels greater success.
1. Before you go into your performance review, reflect on any setbacks and failures, and
consider what you learned from those experiences that makes you a better attorney. This
means you need to take some time to realistically evaluate what you did well, and what
could have been done better. Understand that setbacks are a part of growth, and many
accomplished people have been on the receiving end of criticism. Being able to explain what
you gained from a setback means you won’t be caught off guard when it is brought up—you
will be able to show that you’ve grown from that experience and (hopefully) convey that you
have actively taken steps to ensure it will not happen again.
2. Define your goals. Consider what you want to be able to achieve my your next
performance review, and think about how you will communicate that. Perhaps you want to
participate in a similar matter so that you can demonstrate you’re capable of handling it—or
maybe you want to contribute hours to other areas of the practice. Make sure they are
achievable by your next review, and that you can articulate what success for each goal
might look like. During your performance review, you should wait for the right opportunity to
run them by your evaluator to determine if you are on the same page, and if you are
incorporating feedback correctly.
3. Consider whether you’ve utilized all available resources (in the face of a setback, or with
regard to achieving your new goals). Did you check whether there are books in your library
collection? Have you checked with your colleagues down the hall—or at the other office?
4. Track your accomplishments so you can arrive at your next review with tangible evidence
of your improvements.
5. Ask for a checkup. If you would like to gauge how you’re doing over the next several
months, the performance review is the perfect time for you to ask your supervisor when
would be the right time to get their input on your progress. This give you an opportunity to
course-correct and demonstrate a genuine desire to improve.
Bonus tip: if you’ve done your homework, you can consider asking some trusted colleagues or
more seasoned attorneys for their feedback and perspective.
6. Finally, don’t forget to consider these four questions:
• What should you do differently next year?
• What can you do to make it easier on the team?
• What are the firm’s most important goals for next year?
• What opportunities are there for a person with your interest or background?