Under Analysis: What is and isn't helpful in your performance interview

By Michelle St. Germain

It occurred to me as I began writing this column that I have been writing this column for over a year.  I am told the performance reviews at the Levison Towers are brutal, so I’m working on dangling participles and comma splices to get myself ready.  To really knock their socks off, I am also working on the argument for making “refudiate” a word.

I remember my first performance review.  It was the first I had ever had at any job, but that’s not always the case with other young(ish) lawyers.  I had absolutely no idea what to expect, I went in about as prepared as I did for any other meeting with the firm – completely unprepared.  Although I was nervous, I had not given much thought to my concrete list of accomplishments such as hours billed, clients reeled in, or revenue generated.  I figured we were just going to have a chat.

It turned out that they went easy on me.  Down the road I learned that it would be wise to become more aware of my “numbers” – hours billed, clients brought in, and the Benjamins.  

Some of my peers at other firms were hyper-aware of their numbers, even as summer associates.  I think that says a lot about firm culture, expectations, the lawyers themselves. 

As a newly minted lawyer, I was pretty idealistic about most things in life, and that included practicing the law.  I felt that being a lawyer was more about working hard and doing good things than the numbers.  As time went by, I realized that both are very important. 

Even though my boss was a great manager and also my friend, other people in the firm were not necessarily aware of my “working hard and doing good things” if they were not reflected in dollar signs and numbers followed by commas, followed by more numbers.  This is not to say that people in the firm would not have paid any attention to anything but numbers, but I think sometimes data speaks louder than words.  But not all data is created equal.

• Pointing out that you are 100% punctual is a useful fact.  Pointing out that you hold the record for getting personal traffic tickets nolled by the prosecutor (who thinks you are cute), may not be so helpful.  Exception: if you got the tickets nolled by using what could be construed as legal argument.
• Pointing out that you brought in 17 domestic relations cases this year is a useful fact.  Pointing out that the clients are your relatives, is, well, still a useful fact.
• Pointing out that you won 5 bench cases this year is a useful fact.  Pointing out that you won them while you had mono is a more useful fact.
• Pointing out that you took over thirty cases of the partner’s reject caseload is a useful fact.  Pointing out that you spend way too much time on these loser cases is an understood, but not useful fact.
• Pointing out that the comma in the money you brought in this year should be a decimal is not helpful, not helpful at all.

I’m still not much of a numbers gal, even to this day.  Even though I’m told that I am left-brained, I am not very good at math.  I think of things in terms of values and concepts first, but I have learned that later, it’s important to make a spreadsheet for everyone else to understand my values and concepts.  And when the data isn’t there, well, that’s when it’s time to refudiate, right?

Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Michelle St. Germain practices law in St. Louis, Missouri. You may direct comments or criticisms about this column to the Levison Group c/o this newspaper, or direct to the Levison Group via e-mail, at comments@levisongroup.com.
© 2010 Under Analysis L.L.C.