Although no one feels comfortable conducting performance reviews of their outside legal counsel — that is why legal procurement professionals often handle the review — law firms must know what they are being reviewed on to ensure the likelihood of consistent, high-quality performance scores.

As I’ve written in previous articles, companies are becoming more sophisticated when it comes to measuring their outside legal counsels’ performance — right down to tracking the performance of individual lawyers.

Many attorneys go into their law firm’s performance evaluation blind. Don’t go into the meeting unprepared; prepare in advance of your review by discussing your client’s performance metrics.

What steps you should take prior to performance reviews to ensure you understand your client’s needs and expectations

Let’s look briefly at the key elements of a typical performance review and determine the information you will need to meet expectations, prior to the performance review.

1. Inquire about the performance indicators

  • Ask the client to define their performance expectations and understand the specific performance criteria used for tracking and measuring or evaluating your service; and
  • Know what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the basis for their performance scorecard (especially in regards to fees).

2. Ask about the client’s evaluation method

  • Ask what kind of evaluation methodology is being used: evaluation forms, in-house performance surveys, system metrics, and/or software applications; and
  • Ask for clarification regarding the methodology used to evaluate performance, g. the quality of work, responsive service or fees; for example, do they track how many: corrective actions were taken, complaints received, times not staying within budget, inaccurate invoices, deadlines missed, etc.

3. Find out how you are classified by your client

  • Ask how you or your firm were classified by practice/industry expertise (determining where you sit vs. the competition); and
  • Find out how you are categorized by law firm/attorneys based on how critical the matter is to your client.

4. Determine who’s calling the shots

  • Inquire as to who will be responsible for reviewing your firm’s performance and analyzing the data that is collected (g. the CEO, CFO, GC, procurement professional, in-house counsel team, etc.); and
  • Ask about how evaluations are shared with in‐house counsel and business department heads; find out how they measure which firms perform particularly well in certain areas and with in-house counsel leadership.

5. Feedback is important to attaining or maintaining a strong relationship

Do not take it personally if you or your firm is criticized regarding an area of performance —look at it as a red flag that has been sent up as a “gift”. This process is not just about critiquing your performance but rather, about helping you improve your performance.

Performance reviews give you the chance to examine your processes and service delivery, as well as to compare your firm with the competition. Ask yourself: How does our firm measure up in areas discussed? Are there areas that need improvement? Don’t shy away from performance reviews — they often can be the best source of competitive research you can get. Utilize this information when responding to request for proposals (RFPs).

Using performance reviews as a feedback mechanism will help your firm make changes that will keep you competitive not only with your reviewing client but other clients as well.