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BigLaw: Translating Your Annual Review: What Partners Really Mean

By Legal Tease of Sweet Hot Justice | Monday, December 13, 2010


Originally published on December 7, 2010 in our free BigLaw newsletter.

The end of the year is right around the corner, folks. And if you're an associate working in biglaw, you know what that brings: partner drunkscapades at the firm's holiday party, reluctant realizations that you've spent yet another year trading whatever straggling shards of youth you have left for a bucketful of billable hours, and … year-end associate reviews!

Yes, it's once again report card time for biglaw associates, that time of year when your supervisors weigh in on your progress — or lack thereof — on the path to partnership. But what do these reviews really mean? What hidden messages lurk within your supervisors' vague appraisals? Are you on the way up or out?

Below you'll find translations of five common strains of associate review-speak to help you figure out if you should pat yourself on the back — or watch your back — as this year wraps up.

1. "We Thank You for Your Impressive Billable Contributions to the Firm, Though We Encourage You to Seek Out Pro Bono Work in Addition to Your Billable Client Matters."

Don't change a thing. And for the love of God, don't seek out pro bono work. Ever. Don't even say the words "pro bono" out loud — it'll only waste precious billable minutes. Just keep yourself locked in your office like you always do, remember to shower once in a while, and keep billing until you pass out and/or have a psychotic episode. You're on the way up, kid!

2. "Your Greatest Strengths Are Your Positive Attitude and Contribution to Firm Citizenship."

You will never make partner. You might have a shot at "of counsel" but shouldn't count on it.

You can, however, count on being appointed co-chair of the firm's Happiness Committee or Work-Life Balance Initiative or whatever other pile of nonsense the firm throws together to dupe associate recruits into thinking that working in a law firm is just like working at a hugging factory, but with bigger paychecks.

Calm down, though. You're safe for at least a few more years before you and your greatest strengths will be shown the door. (And by then, with any luck, you will already have had the good sense to move somewhere far, far away from biglaw, where your positive attitude really will help you get ahead.)

3. "We Strongly Encourage You to Seek Out Increased Business Development Opportunities at the Firm in the Coming Year."

As you're no doubt already aware, you're That Associate. Everyone at the firm knows that you were hired because of (a) your father's last name, (b) your mother's last name, or (c) both. Maybe Dad is a senator or Mom is a Getty or they both have their names on a few buildings at NYU.

Whichever it is, the firm will only wait so long for its little gamble on you to pay off. If you don't put your golden pedigree to work and pony up some business for the firm stat, you'll be … well, you'll probably be just fine. More than fine, actually. But you'll be looking for a new job sooner than you might think.

4. "We Appreciate Your Contribution to the Firm But Reiterate the Importance of Keeping Pace With Other Members Of Your Class in Terms of the Scope and Breadth of Your Billable Matters."

You will be fired within the next three to six months. You probably realized that about a year ago right around the time when you started wearing jeans on alternate Fridays and started thinking about writing that novel — but the firm is just now starting to catch up.

But don't worry, they won't let you go until the next review period. So just keep calm and spend the next few months polishing up your resume, depositing those paychecks, and relocating as many office supplies as you can. Consider this time an extended severance package — you might as well make the most of it. And get cracking on that novel.

5. "Your Work On the Client X Matter Was Competently Executed and Much Appreciated."

The person who wrote this review has literally no idea who you are. Your name cropped up on the list of associates who billed time to one of the 800 matters he supervised and he wrote the review roughly four minutes before it was due. Hell, you may not have even worked for this person at all — you probably entered the wrong supervisor code on one of your timesheets and got punted to this poor slob's list of supervisees by mistake.

But, hey, at least the review was positive — think of it as the firm's special way of wishing you happy holidays. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Photo Credit: The Two Bobs from the film Office Space

Legal Tease has clocked more years than she cares to remember working in one of the world's largest law firms. She writes regularly at Sweet Hot Justice, which we encourage you to bookmark and read religiously.

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Topics: BiglawWorld | Law Office Management
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