The Performance Review: Not Just a Time for Listening

By Jamy J. Sullivan, JD

It’s semiannual performance review time for many legal professionals. This year, don’t let this be just a listening session. Take this opportunity to make your own recommendations for moving your career forward. 

Here are five steps to prepare you for your upcoming mid-year evaluation: 

 1. Review previous goals. Don’t just walk in cold. Before going into a formal review, take some time to look over the goals you set during your last evaluation. What were the metrics you and your supervisor set then? Are you meeting or exceeding expectations? Doing this self-evaluation will mean you’ll get less of a surprise when you hear how your performance was graded this cycle.  

2. Update your boss. Managers are busy, and you’re not the only person they supervise. Don’t assume your supervisor will have all the information on what you’ve been up to when it comes time for your review. Was your manager included on that glowing email from a satisfied client? Or, do they know you served on a panel discussion during a legal conference? Some bosses will ask for your input on your accomplishments before the meeting. If yours doesn’t, be proactive and give them an account of your most recent home runs. 
 
3. Analyze your skill set. When you’re deciding what to include in updating your boss, think back to all the things you can do now that you didn’t know how to do six months ago. Perhaps you’ve mastered the firm’s new document management software, or you’ve become much more comfortable giving presentations. Share how far you’ve come with your boss. But be fair. Also, take a look at the holes in your skill set and what you’d like to do better going forward. This exercise can give your career the momentum it needs to reach the next level. 

4. Evaluate your job satisfaction. Every six months is a good interval to assess workplace happiness. If your current job falls short, brainstorm ideas and present them during the performance review. Want to better balance work and family? Ask if you could work from home a few times a week. Has your salary remained static for the past couple of years? It’s time to request a raise and/or a promotion. Be an active driver of your own happiness. 

5. Establish new goals. If you didn’t hit all the goals you set six months ago, roll them over to the next two quarters and resolve to do better. Then think about what else you want to accomplish. Dare to stretch. Do you aim to become a compliance manager one day? Then you may need to get a business degree and/or gain more experience in regulatory compliance. Your manager can help you with your career path, but not if you don’t tell them your aspirations. And what better time than the performance review?  

Most people don’t love performance reviews, but these formal evaluations are excellent opportunities to correct your career course and give it the momentum it needs. So, spend time identifying past accomplishments, reflecting on setbacks and strategizing for the future. Then speak up about the various ways you can help your employer and how your employer can help your career.