It’s that time of year. Welcome to partner retreat season! In addition to furthering relationships with your fellow partners and hopefully getting some warm weather exposure, annual or semi-annual retreats can add a high-impact jolt to your current business development goals.
Lateral partner movement is up, but the jury is still out on how useful laterals are to a firm’s long-term financial health. There is, of course, the role (or lack thereof) of strategic planning and process-design in failed partner acquisitions, but what about the emphasis we put on the value of our employees? So I took a moment to daydream about the perfect firm.
Now that associate retention has firmly established itself again as a management issue at many law firms, upward review programs are not surprisingly back on the agenda. Over the last year or so, the post-recession balance of power has shifted back to the associate body in many law firms. With that shift come renewed calls from associates for the opportunity to evaluate senior colleagues.
In the last blog, we talked about the importance of getting feedback from others on your draft memo. Now that you have some additional insights to incorporate, you’re in the home stretch. After weaving in the feedback you have received, we have two final pieces of advice to consider before hitting ’Send’.
Now that you’ve written your first draft of your memo, you’re more than half way to the finish line. It might be tempting to end the process here and be done with it. Understandable. To ensure that your memo has optimal impact, however, we suggest getting feedback from at least one, if not more sources. Business development can often feel like a lonely journey so why not invite others into your process? This will maximize support and ensure that you’ve approached your memo, both looking back to last year and ahead to the coming year, from as many angles as possible.
Now that you’ve collected the supporting data, that will go into your compensation memo and you’ve analyzed it through a lens of opportunity, drafting or populating the memo should be much easier.
Here are some tips to keep in mind for the drafting phase:
Now that you have had a chance to collect and marinate on the raw data that will inform your partner compensation memo, it’s time to move onto the data processing phase.
Almost every firm has them. Those memos that partners need to submit at year end which capture their business development and firm related activities: the activities which are taken into account when setting compensation and possibly revenue targets for the next year. I have heard them affectionately referred to as the “Why You Should Pay Me More Memos”, the “I Love Me Memos”, the “Justify My Existence Memos” and the list goes on.
I haven’t met many partners who look forward to this annual exercise in self-promotion/justification. Emotions ranging from resentment, fear, frustration, anxiety and anger can often accompany and even worse, sabotage the entire process. And every year, the week, well who am I kidding here, the day before compensation memos are due, we often receive a barrage of panicked calls from partner coachees to brainstorm and review their drafts.
We are, of course, happy to help but leaving your planning memo to the last minute is a surefire way to create stress for yourself in an already stressful situation. It also puts you in danger of leaving out important points that could help your case. Even for those of you who are pressure prompted and need that extra boost of adrenaline, leaving the entire exercise until the last minute is a recipe for a chaotic crunch.
Our recommendation is that you start as early as you can, that you break it into phases and that you do not try to do it all in one sitting. These plans become more fulsome and comprehensive when they are iterative and you allow yourself time for your thinking to marinate. What we have seen work best is to break the process up into at least five distinct phases:
1. data collection;
2. data processing;
3. first draft;
4. feedback and redraft; and
5. final draft (what we affectionately call—“One Last Look”)
As a best practice, work backwards two weeks from the date the memo is due and leave a day or two in between each phase. Bonus points if you actually put this into your calendar with reminder alerts! No doubt, this will require discipline in the face of many other demands on your time but the payoff will be a much more compelling memo. Many lawyers put off addressing their own professional needs in order to service clients’ needs. This is laudable but can be counter-productive. If you are finding it hard to get an early start, ask yourself this question: “Why wouldn’t I put my best case forward in terms of my compensation?”
So, Phase One – Data Collection. Really one of the most important elements of your planning memo is the raw data you're basing it on. You have at your fingertips or could easily get the data we’re talking about – billable hours, collected value, realization rates all sorted by client and matter including your non-billable time like recruiting, mentoring, pro-bono, associate development and relevant leadership activities. It will also be important to pull out last year’s planning memo since that will be your basis of comparison and the whole process is an exercise in looking both back and forward.
Take a minute right now if you can to print out all of this data or send an email to the accounting department to get it for you. Go ahead and read through the data once but don’t worry about analyzing it just yet. Read it and let it percolate for a day or two. This will help start the process of getting you focused on what will go into your memo.
Yup, that’s it for Phase One. The best part about it is that it’s administrative and task-oriented. Very little pressure or energy required. Easy to cross off your to-do list and yet it will help create momentum in this sometimes unpalatable process.
Happy data gathering!