How To Make Drafting Your Year-End Partner Compensation Memo Less Unsavory: Phase I, Data Collection

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!