Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Meaningful Feedback for Associates

With summer and new associate season approaching, now’s a good time for attorneys to consider how to get the most of out their associates. I’ve found the tips below help associates improve their writing and help attorneys get the most bang for their associate buck.

Be Specific

“Improve your writing” (while perhaps true) isn’t the type of helpful feedback that summer and young associates need. If an associate’s writing is lacking, provide the associate with specific information about what aspects of the writing need improvement. Is the associate’s grammar and sentence structure poor? Does the associate fail to adequately outline the facts? Is the explanation of the law cursory? Does the analysis need more in-depth treatment?

And while you’re at it, offer explicit suggestions for improvement (e.g., you should also have included facts X, Y, and Z in your Statement of Facts). Being specific with the associate about the areas of his or her writing that need improvement greatly increases the likelihood that you’ll see that improvement.  

Give Feedback Verbally and In Writing

Associates generally learn more from written feedback when they can ask the attorney questions about why the attorney made certain changes to the associate’s work. Consider marking-up a portion of the associate’s work then sitting down with the associate for a few minutes to explain the comments. Letting the associate ask questions about specific changes and then revise his or her own work (as opposed to having an administrative assistant make changes) will help the associate better understand your expectations and the areas in which he or she needs to improve.

Be Timely

There’s no denying that lawyers are busy people. Finding the time to sit down with an associate to provide feedback can be a challenge. But both you and the associate will benefit if you provide the associate with feedback quickly. First, the associate’s written work is still fresh in his or her mind, making critiques easier to see and understand. Second, the associate can begin to improve his or her work immediately (rather than spending months doing work “wrong). And, third, by providing timely feedback, the attorney will hopefully see improvement on the next assignment (as opposed to continuing to receive sub-par work over and over again).

Give Praise, When Due

Studies have shown that most people respond best to positive reinforcement than to other behavior modification techniques. One thing many associates learn early in practice is that criticism is everywhere but praise is non-existent. Particularly for young associates, the pride in having an attorney tell you that you did a good job can sustain you through the long periods when you’re still learning to practice law and making mistakes on a seemingly daily (or hourly) basis. Offering a few words of praise and encouragement will go a long way toward ensuring that the associate continues to work to improve.    

You’ll do yourself, your firm, and your associate favors by providing helpful, specific feedback that the associate can use to improve his or her writing. 

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