Hogan Lovells scraps 'broken' review system for associates

Hogan Lovells CEO Stephen Immelt

Hogan Lovells is overhauling the way it provides feedback to associates as it looks to adapt to the shifting expectations of younger lawyers.

The transatlantic firm is scrapping its annual review-based approach after spending 18 months testing different methods at its offices around the world.

Rather than relying on annual performance reports to deliver feedback, the firm has worked with consultants to create a new programme dubbed ‘Pathways’, which directs associates to proactively seek input from partners and other colleagues about their performance throughout the year.

The programme has been rolled out across Hogan Lovells’ global offices, and the firm said it will expand the initiative to include the firm’s business services staff next year.

“When it came time to make important decisions – who should be advanced, who should become a partner – we never went back and read the reports, because they were in a sense detached from the process of managing development,” said Steve Immelt, the firm’s Washington DC-based CEO. “We thought the system we had was broken in a number of respects and not really delivering what our people needed and wanted.”

Immelt acknowledged that the shift would require some adjustments for lawyers accustomed to the old system. “Even saying that the old system was broken didn’t mean that this was the right solution,” he said. “This does change the approach, and we all know how lawyers don’t like things to change, so we wanted to be sure this was going to be an approach people would adapt and pick up.”

One of the biggest differences under the new programme involves something the firm has labelled “flash feedback”. Allison Friend, the firm’s chief HR officer in the Americas, said the flash feedback component requires associates to get three pieces of feedback from colleagues every four months. Friend said the exercise prompts associates to identify trends related to what others in the firm are working on, and cultivates more dialogue and engagement between lawyers.

Friend said the decision to shift the firm’s approach was was not motivated by similar moves by competitors, but a number of other top law firms have begun changing their practices in recent years.

Seeking constant performance evaluations is a characteristic of millennial lawyers that many firms have identified, and Hogan Lovells is making changes as firms everywhere are looking to cater to a younger demographic in their recruitment and development efforts.

Slaughter and May recently overhauled its associate appraisal system, with performance scores replaced by more ongoing feedback and mentoring by dedicated ‘continuity’ partners, while Baker McKenzie dropped annual appraisals and performance ratings for all fee earners and staff at the end of the 2016-17 financial year.

Hogan Lovells declined to comment on the precise tools that would be used for the Pathways programme, but noted that it was developed in consultation with hundreds of the firm’s lawyers and with the input of IDEO, a global design company. The firm said the programme would not directly feed into decisions about bonuses, other compensation, or partner promotions.

“Pathways is focused on growth and development, not compensation. We’ve separated the feedback process from conversations about compensation,” Friend said. “As to partnership, it doesn’t determine who is on a partnership track. However, we do talk regularly with associates in the programme about what paths they want to take, including partnership.”

Whatever effect the new programme has on Hogan Lovells’ development and retention of associates, Immelt said he hopes it will give everyone at the firm a better sense of how they fit into its business.

“You find in the law firm setting that people have very high expectations, and are very demanding, but there’s not only a reluctance at times to give constructive feedback, but also a reluctance to give positive feedback,” Immelt said. “So by trying to change that rhythm… it’s just another way we as a firm are trying to adapt to a modern workplace with a modern group of associates, who have different expectations than I had many years ago when I was a young associate.”