How To Make Drafting Your Year End Partner Compensation Memo Less Unsavory: Phase III, First Draft

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:

  • Optimize credit:
    A compensation memo is an exercise in making sure you get credit for all of your billable and non-billable activities in the past year. It should visually paint a picture of you as highly strategic about how you approach business development, how well you execute on that approach and the additional efforts you make to develop the firm’s talent and culture. To paint that picture, you need to be very clear on what you did, how you did it and what the impact was. Possibly the biggest weakness we see in draft partner compensation memos is a series of underwhelming descriptions that seem to just be populating fields for the sake of completing the exercise. This is your chance to build your case for your compensation so don’t skimp on the facts. The emphasis here is on impact so when drafting descriptions think expansion (how can I say more) versus restriction (simply ticking off a box). It’s also an opportunity to give credit to others who have helped you along the way. Business development karma can be a powerful tool in your arsenal so don’t forget to speckle it throughout your memo.

  • Names, numbers and outcomes:
    Because the emphasis is on impact, make sure to include specific names of clients, contacts and other partners who were part of your strategic business development efforts. Include specific numeric dollar amounts where possible – particularly in the case of an increase in business. In addition to any increases, what were some other outcomes of your efforts? Did you help a client save a significant amount of money? That may not show up in your numbers per se but you could link it to a possible increase in future business from that client. Names, numbers and outcomes is also important on the non-billable side, particularly if you are involved in a number of firm initiatives. It’s always good to be able to show you are involved but this memo is your chance to show the firm exactly how your role added value. Were you on the recruiting committee and successfully helped attract one of the firm’s top candidates? Did the women’s committee event you chaired lead to any new business contacts or opportunities for the firm?

  • Pick a stretch client and contact:
    It’s tempting to want to play it safe in a compensation memo by sticking to clients and contacts that are known and perceived to be in your or the firm’s arena. That said, stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone can show real business development initiative (and get you even more credit). As long as you can highlight a strategy for outreach to your stretch client there really isn’t a downside. In truth, there is only so much you can control in business development--the effort you put in on your side. You can’t control whether or not someone ultimately takes your call or gives you a piece of business. And, you’ll never know if you don’t try. It may be that you can’t make it happen at the end of the day, in which case you can go back to the drawing board and tweak your strategy the next year but you’ll come across as someone who’s willing to up their game.

  • Don’t stop conversations with yourself prematurely:
    To the point of picking a stretch client, don’t talk yourself out of things that may seem risky. If you hear yourself saying something like “I could never get a meeting with X” or “I doubt Y would ever take my call”, don’t let yourself off the hook that easily before asking a different series of questions. “How could I get a meeting with X?” “What would I need to help make that happen?” “Who could I partner with to take the first step and see what happens?”

Before you deem your first draft to be complete, and to make sure you’ve incorporated the points above to ensure a compelling memo, ask yourself these two important questions: (1) “What is missing?" and (2) “Where have I downplayed my efforts?”

Happy drafting.