International firm Eversheds will this year usher in the demise of the annual appraisal with a new system of check-in meetings. Top 20 firm will roll out the new model following a successful trial of more informal, regular meetings in its litigation department.
It is believed to be one of the first law firms to cancel the performance development review and follows the likes of Microsoft, Accenture and Deloitte in changing development and performance is monitored.
HR partner Abigail Fisher said the idea had come from exit interviews with departing employees and research about the so-called millennial generation. ‘The firm needed to change the way they did things to engage and retain the new generation of lawyers,’ said Fisher. ‘The lawyers told us they would like honest conversations, continuous development and regular updates on matters happening across the team.’
A flyer was created for partners to conduct quarterly meetings with fee earners, which are designed to be more informal and less prescriptive.
Fisher said retention rates have already improved since the first meetings in August and the hope is that employees will feel more free to talk openly to address concerns before they become a problem.
The issue of increasing workloads – and lawyers asking for help to deal with them – has come into greater focus in recent years. In December an associate at a top 50 firm told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal he found it ‘frankly impossible’ to handle each of his live files in sufficient detail, and he was too stretched to rectify mistakes.
Nicola Jones, a former barrister and now an adviser on learning and development with consultancy Athena Professional, said law firms are increasingly exploring new approaches to performance management.
‘Changing working practices are creating a need for senior lawyers to be able to manage people effectively on a daily basis,’ she said. ‘Gone are the days of the firm providing a constant stream of work in the expectation that colleagues will ‘do the right thing’ and plough on.’