Annual review: time to bring up complaints? Forum

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Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Oct 01, 2021 8:09 am

I am a Biglaw associate, moving from my second to third year. I think pretty soon I'll have my annual check in with the partners to discuss my functioning as well as any other feedback I have.

The year has been a mixed bag for me, where I think most of the year my performance has been pretty on pay, but the past couple of months or so has fallen off a cliff. This is mostly due to my complete inability to work together with a senior associate who is on my current project. We have vastly different working styles. It's not that the assignments suck, it is mostly that I don't feel like I receive any guidance, and when I try to request any help, he just makes me feel stupid for even asking without offering any explanation. Then I send in my assignment, and it gets sent back multiple times, because he changes his mind constantly. Moreover, every workstream I get "put in charge of," he basically takes over, which leads to a complete mess in communications with third parties. As a result, I am utterly exhausted as I feel like everything I do is wrong and like I'm in a constant straitjacket and I basically disagree with every approach we make.

I am wondering if I should bring this up during my annual review. Not to blast the senior associate, as I see it is just a difference in working style, but just more to indicate that it has been incredibly tiring for me, mostly due to my own fault for just not understanding his communication style, so as to hint that during work allocation they'd not place him with me on future projects. But I'm unsure if that is completely inappropriate or not. I have worked with many other associates in my group and never had any difficulty at all.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by papermateflair » Fri Oct 01, 2021 11:09 am

I'm sure others will have different advice and this is just how I would approach things, but I would never put a senior associate on blast during a formal process (and it sounds like you aren't wanting to do that either!). Instead, I would consider having a conversation with a partner or two that you trust (if you have an assigned mentor you trust, that may be the best person) asking for advice on how to best work with this associate (or not even this associate in particular, but the scenario you're dealing with). Tell them how important it is to you that you have a good relationship with this person but that you need some help figuring out how to work with them because you've been struggling. If the senior is really all over the place like this the partners have probably noticed. I try and ask people for help when I have an issue, because lawyers love to solve problems but usually don't want to do actual management of their employees, and problem solving/advice giving gets them in a good mindset to help me (rather than trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong and getting the other side of it).

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by CanadianWolf » Fri Oct 01, 2021 2:44 pm

Have you discussed this stylistic clash with the senior associate involved ? If not, do so as it is highly likely that this will be a question asked by any partner to whom you share this concern.

Of course, you can discuss this concern during your review if the opportunity arises. If it does not, then discuss your concern privately with a trusted partner as suggested above by another poster. In short, do not make your review a session about difficulties with the senior associate.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by Elston Gunn » Fri Oct 01, 2021 2:48 pm

Yeah, do not affirmatively bring this up during your formal review.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Oct 01, 2021 4:38 pm

I had a similar situation when I was a second year. I was also concerned that the senior associate would review me poorly, so I kind of felt the need to provide context, and did in my review. I ended up saying something along the lines of "it's been great working with the whole team, seeing how [senior associate] does thing differently from [others] was a really good learning experience, and now I appreciate holistically how much I especially clicked with [others] and would really like to work with them, since I think our back and flow is super productive." That might be one way to package your preferences without being negative.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Oct 05, 2021 4:59 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Oct 01, 2021 4:38 pm
I had a similar situation when I was a second year. I was also concerned that the senior associate would review me poorly, so I kind of felt the need to provide context, and did in my review. I ended up saying something along the lines of "it's been great working with the whole team, seeing how [senior associate] does thing differently from [others] was a really good learning experience, and now I appreciate holistically how much I especially clicked with [others] and would really like to work with them, since I think our back and flow is super productive." That might be one way to package your preferences without being negative.
I'm thankful for everyone's feedback, but just wanted to say this is very welcome advice especially. I really don't want to come off as the jerk who is badmouthing another associate, but also want to make clear that it's driving me insane and will lead me to lateral if I continue to get staffed on deals with him. I think this provides a good package where I hint that it wasn't working, but also that I work really well with the others and would be very grateful to continue doing so.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by CanadianWolf » Wed Oct 06, 2021 9:38 am

While I appreciate different styles of communication, if you are going to raise the issue, then I would be more direct than the approach suggested. Just share that you do not work well with the senior associate and that even though you have addressed your concerns with him the difficulties remain. Label it as a clash of personalities or as one of a difference in communication styles. But, if you raise the issue, you will have to show that you tried to work things out & you will have to give specifics. If unable to do both, then do not raise the issue, in my opinion.

P.S. Reread your original post in this thread. Speaking in a direct manner,it seems as though you may be a significant part of the problem claiming that in the past few months that your work performance "has fallen off a cliff".

This suggests that the senior associate will share that your work was sub-standard.

The manner in which you expressed the issue in the first post in this thread does not help your case as it appears that you may be at fault due to work burn-out. This is something that should have been addressed earlier both with the senior associate & with a trusted partner. Leaving the matter unaddressed until your review--if that is the case--was not wise since the issue remained for several months.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by nixy » Wed Oct 06, 2021 10:10 am

I understood the original post to be saying that the poster was only burnt out from working with someone impossible to work with. It’s not clear to me that their work has actually suffered so much as the senior associate has made it impossible for them to do good work.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Oct 06, 2021 11:16 am

There's no reason not to bring up complaints in your review.

The market is hot and you have more leverage than you give yourself credit for as a rising third year. The other responses above are soft.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by CanadianWolf » Wed Oct 06, 2021 11:17 am

According to OP in the original post, his work performance for "the past couple of months or so has fallen off a cliff...mostly due to my complete inability to work together with a senior associate...."

Then the OP continues to complain about "different working styles", "lack of guidance", and that the senior associate "makes me feel stupid for even asking" for help. OP's work assignments are repeatedly sent back because the senior associate "changes his mind constantly". When OP is put in charge of a work stream, the senior associate "basically takes over".

It is likely that the partners are aware of the senior associate's work product, work ethic, and personality.

Are we to believe that the senior associate is incompetent or that the senior associate is deliberately trying to drive OP out of the firm ?

Seems unreasonable to me that the senior associate would want to delay or harm his own project. Seems unreasonable to me to think that the senior associate in charge is incompetent or otherwise incapable of communicating in an effective manner.

The first issue: Did the OP meet with the senior associate to discuss his concerns ? If so, what happened ?

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by CanadianWolf » Wed Oct 06, 2021 11:22 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Wed Oct 06, 2021 11:16 am
There's no reason not to bring up complaints in your review.

The market is hot and you have more leverage than you give yourself credit for as a rising third year. The other responses above are soft.
This advice reminds me of a song by Johnny Paycheck titled: "Take This Job and Shove It".

Truly great advice.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by nixy » Wed Oct 06, 2021 11:49 am

CanadianWolf wrote:
Wed Oct 06, 2021 11:17 am
According to OP in the original post, his work performance for "the past couple of months or so has fallen off a cliff...mostly due to my complete inability to work together with a senior associate...."

Then the OP continues to complain about "different working styles", "lack of guidance", and that the senior associate "makes me feel stupid for even asking" for help. OP's work assignments are repeatedly sent back because the senior associate "changes his mind constantly". When OP is put in charge of a work stream, the senior associate "basically takes over".

It is likely that the partners are aware of the senior associate's work product, work ethic, and personality.

Are we to believe that the senior associate is incompetent or that the senior associate is deliberately trying to drive OP out of the firm ?

Seems unreasonable to me that the senior associate would want to delay or harm his own project. Seems unreasonable to me to think that the senior associate in charge is incompetent or otherwise incapable of communicating in an effective manner.

The first issue: Did the OP meet with the senior associate to discuss his concerns ? If so, what happened ?
Really? It’s inconceivable to you that a senior associate could be difficult to understand and unclear in communicating what they want out of an assignment?

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by CanadianWolf » Wed Oct 06, 2021 11:56 am

Not what I wrote, although the OP claims that this happened multiple times over at least the past couple of months.

There are two sides to this story.

The partner(s) are familiar with the senior associate's abilities.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Oct 08, 2021 11:07 am

You should never bring up anything in your annual review. No one cares. The time for these conversations was before the review occurred in an organic fashion. If you think annual reviews are for meaningful discussion about workplace issues you don't yet "get it." Just say "thanks for the feedback" and move on.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Oct 08, 2021 1:20 pm

OP - do you have any sense as to whether others have had trouble with this senior associate in the past? That's important for three reasons: (1) you can sort out whether it's something about you (and thus something you can improve on) or whether this associate is truly bad to work with, (2) others might have some advice on how to deal with this particular associate, and (3) if this associate truly is just bad to work for (and blames the juniors like you in reviews), then the firm probably already knows to take their reviews with a grain of salt.

I had a big problem with a particular partner a while back and felt much better when I learned (1) it wasn't just me, (2) some strategies for managing up specific to that partner, and (3) (from the department head) the firm views that partner's reviews (whether positive or negative) as absolutely worthless .

Just be tactful when you bring it up. Wait till someone asks how you're doing or what you're working on and then let out a slow trickle of information from your end to see if they bite. If this person is truly horrible to work with your colleagues will jump at the opportunity to commiserate.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by daedalus2309 » Tue Oct 12, 2021 10:43 am

CanadianWolf wrote:
Wed Oct 06, 2021 11:17 am
Seems unreasonable to me to think that the senior associate in charge is incompetent or otherwise incapable of communicating in an effective manner.
nixy wrote:
Wed Oct 06, 2021 11:49 am
Really? It’s inconceivable to you that a senior associate could be difficult to understand and unclear in communicating what they want out of an assignment?
CanadianWolf wrote:
Wed Oct 06, 2021 11:56 am
Not what I wrote
This website is truly undefeated. CanadianWolf out here inadvertently proving OP's point that indeed some experienced Big Law attorneys can't communicate intelligently, are needlessly pedantic, overly confrontational, and change their mind on a dime with no explanation. Plus some bootlicking for good measure? *Chef's kiss*

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by CanadianWolf » Tue Oct 12, 2021 11:23 am

LOL. Nice try.

Isolating one sentence in a multi-paragraph post misses the point that the OP needs to let the senior associate know his concerns. As I wrote:

"The first issue: Did the OP meet with the senior associate to discuss his concerns ? If so, what happened ?"

No clear response to these questions from OP.

In OP's opening post, OP admits that his performance has "fallen off a cliff" for "the past couple of months".

OP also shares that the senior associate has to take over & redo every work stream that he is put in charge of. And that OP disagrees "with every approach we make".

In short, it is not clear who is the problem in this case. This is a concern in this matter as OP's initial post exhibits less than clear communication skills. There are at least two sides to this story.

P.S. I just checked the above poster's most recent posts. Insulting other posters seems to be his only purpose on this website.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by nixy » Tue Oct 12, 2021 1:06 pm

I mean, their performance has fallen off a cliff only in that this particular senior associate has taken over and redone everything. The OP didn’t say that their performance has fallen off a cliff generally. They said that they disagree with the senior associate’s approach. This is all to explain how this senior associate is different from all the other people the OP has worked for, with whom the OP hasn’t had any problems. It seemed pretty clear to me.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by CanadianWolf » Tue Oct 12, 2021 1:58 pm

nixy wrote:
Tue Oct 12, 2021 1:06 pm
I mean, their performance has fallen off a cliff only in that this particular senior associate has taken over and redone everything. The OP didn’t say that their performance has fallen off a cliff generally. They said that they disagree with the senior associate’s approach. This is all to explain how this senior associate is different from all the other people the OP has worked for, with whom the OP hasn’t had any problems. It seemed pretty clear to me.
Maybe I am reading too much into OP's post. My sense is that OP is a bit burnt out in addition to being frustrated.

The fact that the senior associate has repeatedly taken over OP's duties could be used to support both your interpretation as well as my interpretation. This is one reason why I tried to flush out more specific information from the OP.

If the OP is correct that the senior associate lacks effective communication & mentoring skills, then the partners probably are aware of this already. But, if OP is suffering from burnout or is an ineffective communicator, then it would not be wise to raise this issue during a review,in my opinion.

There is no right or wrong answer / advice at this point because readers do not have enough specific information.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Oct 12, 2021 11:02 pm

#1) never bring up anything in an annual review that hasn’t already been raised directly with someone and all options exhausted - otherwise it’s just a tacky move and only will look bad on you

#2) no one cares about your longevity or success at the firm other than making sure they don’t miss a beat with the client and profit sharing. On top of that, they definitely don’t care about your review so don’t bring up anything out of the ordinary there. Just take your licks for what they’re worth and move on. People have spent maybe 30 seconds on providing feedback.

Best way is to work through the issues by getting creative and/or actively avoid future work with this person.

Sorry for the tough love.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by Anonymous User » Wed Oct 13, 2021 1:25 pm

OP here:
I like how the discussion has centered on what I meant with "fallen of a cliff," and whatnot. To provide some clarity, what I meant with that is I've made more mistakes. Still nothing massive, but there definitely have been moments where something wasn't carried over incorrectly, for example. I think this is largely because I've been very frustrated on this transaction, where I think, subconsciously, my motivation has dropped under my belief it will get sent back anyway, so I don't scrutinize matters as much. But maybe it is also due to burnout.

I think the other issue is that he perceives I make a lot more mistakes than I actually make. My work product generally gets sent back, not because I made a mistake, but because he has changed his mind, or doesn't give guidance. So I frequently send something in that has to be amended, because I did not know what he wanted. I've attempted to clarify with him what he wants, but he is so chaotic and rushed that I generally have no clue what he means (he basically just gives me a call, rattles of instructions and hangs up before I can even ask a question). It is one of the points that leads to my frustration (and I'm sure his as well) where an assignment that should only take maybe 3 hours takes three times as long.

Secondly, no, I have not discussed matters with the associate. Fact is, this has maybe been going on for two months, but it has only become really problematic in the last month or so. Prior to this there was just a lot of confusion (multiple associates doing the same work, e-mails we sent him that were ignored leading to mistakes being sent to the client, etc.), but nothing where I thought it was an issue for me personally. I think his frustrations with me are just of the past weeks. I know there are others who also dread working under him, but issue is that the more senior associates and the partners all seem to like him, as his work product is always pristine and so always gets the job done.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by CanadianWolf » Wed Oct 13, 2021 10:04 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Wed Oct 13, 2021 1:25 pm
OP here:
I like how the discussion has centered on what I meant with "fallen of a cliff," and whatnot. To provide some clarity, what I meant with that is I've made more mistakes. Still nothing massive, but there definitely have been moments where something wasn't carried over incorrectly, for example. I think this is largely because I've been very frustrated on this transaction, where I think, subconsciously, my motivation has dropped under my belief it will get sent back anyway, so I don't scrutinize matters as much. But maybe it is also due to burnout.

I think the other issue is that he perceives I make a lot more mistakes than I actually make. My work product generally gets sent back, not because I made a mistake, but because he has changed his mind, or doesn't give guidance. So I frequently send something in that has to be amended, because I did not know what he wanted. I've attempted to clarify with him what he wants, but he is so chaotic and rushed that I generally have no clue what he means (he basically just gives me a call, rattles of instructions and hangs up before I can even ask a question). It is one of the points that leads to my frustration (and I'm sure his as well) where an assignment that should only take maybe 3 hours takes three times as long.

Secondly, no, I have not discussed matters with the associate. Fact is, this has maybe been going on for two months, but it has only become really problematic in the last month or so. Prior to this there was just a lot of confusion (multiple associates doing the same work, e-mails we sent him that were ignored leading to mistakes being sent to the client, etc.), but nothing where I thought it was an issue for me personally. I think his frustrations with me are just of the past weeks. I know there are others who also dread working under him, but issue is that the more senior associates and the partners all seem to like him, as his work product is always pristine and so always gets the job done.
OP confesses: "I've made more mistakes." "My motivation has dropped." "I don't scrutinize matters as much." And further shares that this is partially due to "burnout".

OP admits: "No, I have not discussed matters with the associate."

OP also wrote regarding the senior associate: that the other "...more senior associates and the partners all seem to like him, as his work product is always pristine and so always gets the job done."

OP, you are being honest with yourself. Based on your postings in this thread, the answer is that you should not complain about this senior associate during your annual review because you have not discussed your concerns with him, and because he is well respected by other more senior associates and partners as he does outstanding work and can be relied upon to get the job done.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Oct 14, 2021 6:47 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Wed Oct 13, 2021 1:25 pm
OP here:
I like how the discussion has centered on what I meant with "fallen of a cliff," and whatnot. To provide some clarity, what I meant with that is I've made more mistakes. Still nothing massive, but there definitely have been moments where something wasn't carried over incorrectly, for example. I think this is largely because I've been very frustrated on this transaction, where I think, subconsciously, my motivation has dropped under my belief it will get sent back anyway, so I don't scrutinize matters as much. But maybe it is also due to burnout.

I think the other issue is that he perceives I make a lot more mistakes than I actually make. My work product generally gets sent back, not because I made a mistake, but because he has changed his mind, or doesn't give guidance. So I frequently send something in that has to be amended, because I did not know what he wanted. I've attempted to clarify with him what he wants, but he is so chaotic and rushed that I generally have no clue what he means (he basically just gives me a call, rattles of instructions and hangs up before I can even ask a question). It is one of the points that leads to my frustration (and I'm sure his as well) where an assignment that should only take maybe 3 hours takes three times as long.

Secondly, no, I have not discussed matters with the associate. Fact is, this has maybe been going on for two months, but it has only become really problematic in the last month or so. Prior to this there was just a lot of confusion (multiple associates doing the same work, e-mails we sent him that were ignored leading to mistakes being sent to the client, etc.), but nothing where I thought it was an issue for me personally. I think his frustrations with me are just of the past weeks. I know there are others who also dread working under him, but issue is that the more senior associates and the partners all seem to like him, as his work product is always pristine and so always gets the job done.
I think the associate in question is probably one of those types that is hell to work for, but a dream to have working for you. I'd imagine that the partners are not aware of his issues with working with juniors, and ultimately, they won't care either as the end product is good.

I think, if it comes up during your annual review, I'd raise that you found it hard to work with him due to different working styles, but also that you found it immensely valuable, as it made you see a new style of work. But I'd also indicate that you still struggle sometimes with the difference, so to hopefully get the situation where you don't have to work with him again in the future, if that is what you want. Please note, however, I think it's a bit dangerous to basically put yourself outside of working with an associate who, by the sounds of it, is on the partnership track. It could lead to more work drying up in the future and send you packing.

Either way, I'd definitely shy away from bringing up specific examples where the associate messed up (even though, I agree, this associate sounds terrible to work for). After all, one of the qualities of a good associate is that you can amend your work product and style based on who you're working for. So, I think this ultimately falls on you and not the associate.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Oct 14, 2021 2:34 pm

Repeat after me: No. One. Cares. The key to success in biglaw as an associate is to maximize the benefit your bring to those senior to you who you're working with while minimizing the pain. No one cares about all this drama I'm not even bothering reading these multi-paragraph screeds being written back and forth and I can't imagine being a reviewing partner on your review call and receiving this soap opera. Not trying to be an asshole trying to be honest about how people are thinking. Just don't work with this senior associate again and move on. Whatever is said in the review just nod and move on. As long as you bill your 2k+ per year and don't do anything majorly stupid (talking client relationship ending not missed commas in a brief) you'll be fine.

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Re: Annual review: time to bring up complaints?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Oct 14, 2021 4:38 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Oct 14, 2021 2:34 pm
Repeat after me: No. One. Cares. The key to success in biglaw as an associate is to maximize the benefit your bring to those senior to you who you're working with while minimizing the pain. No one cares about all this drama I'm not even bothering reading these multi-paragraph screeds being written back and forth and I can't imagine being a reviewing partner on your review call and receiving this soap opera. Not trying to be an asshole trying to be honest about how people are thinking. Just don't work with this senior associate again and move on. Whatever is said in the review just nod and move on. As long as you bill your 2k+ per year and don't do anything majorly stupid (talking client relationship ending not missed commas in a brief) you'll be fine.
I generally agree with this, but I think that is partially the point OP is trying to make. They don't want to work with the senior associate anymore. Seems like they have an assignment system and they can't just say no to whom they work with, so they're trying to flag this to the partnership in order to effect this.

But honestly, I agree, regardless. The partners will probably have received the bad feedback the senior associate has given on you and will treat this as gospel. Just nod your head and say you will do better and hope this senior associate will do your work for you and not have you on his deals anymore. He probably will, actually.

Seriously? What are you waiting for?

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