Practice Management Writing

“E” is for taking the frustration out of associate “evaluations”

Written by Paulette Pommells

Associates, before you go on holidays, I want you to start thinking about your upcoming evaluations… Not as a reason to stress you out, but as a gentle reminder that you will feel frustrated with yourself if you leave this meeting to chance. When left unplanned, you could lose:

  • A bonus
  • Promotional opportunities
  • Job security.

When framed this way, it’s easy to appreciate why you would want to prepare!

Whether to address this lack of motivation or not, many firms/organizations have broken down the evaluation process by requiring associates to first fill out a questionnaire or to submit a report. Of course, every place will conduct evaluations differently, but if you are expected to submit something in writing, consider yourself lucky. This will help you plan for the eventual meeting.

If you are currently working on a written evaluation, or want to get a head start on preparing for the meeting, here are some strategies that my clients find valuable:


Begin by evaluating yourself first. This will not only help you figure out goals for the following year but also anticipate some of the feedback you might receive. (As an aside, consider attending a program at which I and other experts will be speaking about the “Associate’s Business Plan and Personal Goal Setting” on February 3, 2016 @ 4:30pm, OBA Institute.

There are many ways to self-evaluate. Here is a couple:

  1. Many firms/organizations set out performance expectations for their associates in writing. Look this up, and map out your progress.
  2. If you are a new-call, consult the LSUC’s entry-level competencies for both a barrister and solicitor.

It is realistic to expect that you will find areas that require improvement. Don’t let this discovery get you down though. Start thinking of proactive steps you can take before your evaluation meeting. This will signal that you are serious about your professional development!


As lawyers, we are expected to consider the other side’s case in order to assess the strength of our own arguments. Reflecting on the purpose of an evaluation from your employer’s perspective can do the same. It can also reduce the uncertainty associated with the process.

Generally, the goal of an associate evaluation is to help you become both a better lawyer and asset to your firm/organization (even if you get negative feedback). If these are your personal goals too, then you should view this as an opportunity to express your shared aspirations.


The very nature of an evaluation suggests that it is the time to be honest about your performance. When receiving criticism, don’t be defensive. Thank the evaluator for the feedback and paraphrase what you understand the problem to be. This will allow the evaluator to correct or clarify the matter. It will also give you a chance to calm down and reflect on the positive outcomes you are hoping to achieve. Engage in an open dialogue with the evaluator and seize the opportunity to ask their opinion on how to solve the problem.

Remember, it’s all about perspective. You can choose to see negative feedback as an opportunity to learn or, take a downturn. If you find yourself in a difficult situation, use the CLAIM approach I talked about in the last post:


Finally, provide a list of accomplishments from the past year. Five is a good number. Within those statements, try and quantify as much you can. Employers love tangible facts such as billed hours, money saved, and number of new clients. For example, you might say, “I resolved a contract dispute for a new client, who was pleased with the outcome.” Not bad, right? But what about, “I resolved a contract dispute while eliminating $1M warranty liability for a new client, who was pleased with the outcome”?

Accomplishment statements can include any extra work you did for the firm/organization, like plan a staff event or participate on a committee. They can also address any volunteer or community contributions, like being a section executive for the CBA or serving on a board. Be sure to link your success with that of the firm/organization.


If you would like to develop your own personalized plan and have the opportunity to rehearse it, work with me as your coach:




About the author

Paulette Pommells

I am a certified coach with a creative approach to bring out the best of the 21st Century Lawyer! A 21st Century Lawyer myself, I was faced with a professional dilemma years ago: I had become a “successful” lawyer, and yet something didn't feel right. One day, I hired a career coach and realized how similar coaching is to the legal strategy process. I decided to share this breakthrough with every single lawyer. Today, Creative Choices™ is a sought-after technique by lawyers, law students and law firms when it comes to professional challenges of all kinds. You can learn more about this on my website or by emailing me at

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