Making Your Appraisal Work For You

Published: 01 Aug 2018 By Cathryn Holmes, Chadwick Nott

For many lawyers, it’s that time of year again; trying to find the time (and inclination) to complete your annual appraisal and perhaps a chance to discuss your current salary and whether there is any possibility of an increase this year. I thought it would be a good time to write a blog to encourage everyone to put some time, thought and effort into their annual reviews with the aim that it results in a more satisfying and fulfilling career in the longer term.

Whilst there is no legal requirement for law firms to carry out any form of appraisal, we find that most do have some form of appraisal process. Although the SRA have issued guidelines for employers on the appraisal process, the format and usefulness of the process varies enormously from one law firm to another. If your firm doesn’t schedule appraisals and you want one, then take the bull by the horns and initiate one. There is no requirement that your appraisal must be very formal or that it should only take place annually. In fact we have started to see a move away from the annual formal appraisal towards a more informal and regular review which clearly has advantages.

Benefits of an appraisal

As a starting point, I have highlighted some of the benefits of arranging a regular appraisal:

•   Opportunity for self-awareness / reflection

•   One-on-one uninterrupted time with your supervisor / manager / head of team or Managing Partner

•   A chance for you to discuss workflow, priorities and utilisation

•   A good time to identify any training needs either in relation to technical skills or softer skills such as business development and networking

•   An opportunity to highlight your contribution to the team / firm

•   A way to avoid  career stagnation by giving you an opportunity to think and plan for the future

•   A formal environment in which to discuss promotion prospects or remuneration

•   A regular opportunity to assess your longer term career plans and goals

•   An opportunity to raise any concerns and deal with any issues before things get to the point of no return and you (or your employer) are tempted to act irrationally or in haste

•   An opportunity to discuss your perception of how you are doing versus the reality as your employer sees it

•   A good time to ask about sponsorship of further education / training or opportunities for secondments

•   An opportunity, particularly for the employer, to improve morale, motivation and in turn staff retention and overall productivity of the business and for you to contribute to this by honestly raising any issues

Do’s and Don’ts for your appraisal meeting

Once you are committed to your appraisal meeting, it is useful to take note of some simple Do’s and Don’ts.

Do’s

•   Do prepare properly and in advance and submit your part of the appraisal form (if there is one and this is how your process works) in plenty of time to allow your employer to prepare properly too

•   Do keep a record throughout the year, to make preparing for your appraisal less painful. A record of work you have undertaken, work or clients introduced to the firm, articles you have written, presentations or pitches, client secondments and work / skills / contacts developed, client successes, client events, any initiatives you have implemented, new qualifications gained or soft skills developed will be a helpful reminder

•   Do make sure you are aware of any targets, billing figures, utilisation rates, profitability etc

•   Do review your goals / objectives from your last appraisal

•   Do approach any discussion about promotion or salary increases with concrete evidence to justify why you deserve this. Promotion and pay increases are no longer based solely on your level of PQE and therefore the notion of “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” is perhaps more important now than previously

•   Do speak to your recruitment consultant if you require any benchmarking information on salary or want to make sure you are up to date on the market generally.

•   Do go into your appraisal with a positive attitude; be honest and take responsibility. Try to be open minded about suggestions and prepared to hear (and take on board) any constructive criticism.

•   Do be mindful of your body language; over 50% of communication is said to be non-verbal

•   Do take notes yourself (if this is appropriate)

Don’ts

•   Don’t rush or go through the motions when preparing for your appraisal

•   Don’t avoid raising concerns / issues

•   Don’t lose your composure. If necessary take a break and reconvene

•   Don’t make excuses if you are criticized. Take responsibility and try to think about how you should have handled things. If you still aren’t clear then consider asking your employer how they would have dealt with things

Soul Searching

Finally, I think this is an excellent time to ask yourself some more “soul-searching” questions:

•   Are you happy?

•   Do you get the type and quality of work you want?

•   Is your firm committed to your practice area / sector?

•   Is there room to progress?

•   Do you still agree with the firms’ overall strategy?

•   Are you happy with your salary and targets?

•   Do you get on with key individuals / decision makers within the firm?

•   What are your overall career plans? Where do you see yourself in 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years etc? Do you want to work abroad or in-house? Does your current role support your longer term ambitions?

•   Are you happy with your working hours/pattern, work life balance, administrative support? Is this something which you are able to address?

If the answer to any of the above questions is no, perhaps it’s time to take stock of your career. You can try and address any concerns in your appraisal and if that is not satisfactory, it may be time to think about a move…

If you would like a confidential chat about any of the points covered in this blog, please get in touch with me – Cathryn Holmes on 0117 917 1854 / 07795 107815 or by email on cathrynholmes@chadwicknott.co.uk or via Linkedin. 

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