Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice? Forum

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Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 22, 2022 11:57 am

I'm a junior at a V50 and am due to write annual reviews shortly, both on those senior to me and those junior to me. While the firm advises to give "honest" and "direct" feedback, including areas where the senior or junior associate can develop further, how honest should I be in these reviews, especially to other midlevels and senior associates? It feels incredibly awkward to critique a senior associate/midlevel who I work with regularly and while a little easier with those junior to me, I sometimes feel it is difficult to remember multiple examples to critique (especially considering that most of those junior to me, except for one person, have been pretty great).

Do people generally leave honest/straightforward reviews? Or should I just leave niceties and a couple of lighter critiques to show the firm that I'm thinking about it (and if so, what are some common things I could put down in my reviews).

Thanks

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 22, 2022 12:02 pm

Leave honest reviews but do your best to control for any bias. Along these lines, it helps to be very specific. So instead of saying something like, "[junior associate] should take more ownership of her cases," identify a specific thing that you wanted the junior associate to do that she didn't do.

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Wanderingdrock » Thu Sep 22, 2022 12:03 pm

Always be nice to your juniors in reviews. If you have constructive feedback, give it to them in real time. Firms can use reviews to justify withholding bonuses or paper over terminations. Don't play that game for their team when you could actually help the junior improve.

This can be harder to do for those senior to you. Try to give constructive feedback in real time if you're comfortable doing so. Otherwise, it's a balancing act. Give an honest review if the senior is truly a jerk. Otherwise, consider using general and innocent-sounding language, for the same reason as above.

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 22, 2022 12:57 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Sep 22, 2022 11:57 am
I'm a junior at a V50 and am due to write annual reviews shortly, both on those senior to me and those junior to me. While the firm advises to give "honest" and "direct" feedback, including areas where the senior or junior associate can develop further, how honest should I be in these reviews, especially to other midlevels and senior associates? It feels incredibly awkward to critique a senior associate/midlevel who I work with regularly and while a little easier with those junior to me, I sometimes feel it is difficult to remember multiple examples to critique (especially considering that most of those junior to me, except for one person, have been pretty great).

Do people generally leave honest/straightforward reviews? Or should I just leave niceties and a couple of lighter critiques to show the firm that I'm thinking about it (and if so, what are some common things I could put down in my reviews).

Thanks
The dirty little secret with reviews is that everyone knows they’re a silly formality and a waste of time, so don’t spend much thought on it. Hit your hours and do good work and keep your head down otherwise. Don’t bring up anything negative/“constructive” in a review that hasn’t been brought up outside of the review already. Check the box and move on.

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 22, 2022 1:02 pm

Don't blindside your juniors with negative feedback. If they need to improve, tell them in person, and only write it in an eval if they fail to show progress.

I always found upward reviews pointless. No one cares if someone is a bad supervisor until the good associates quit or refuse to work with him or her.

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by nealric » Thu Sep 22, 2022 2:04 pm

Negative feedback can be very damaging to someone, so I'd only give it as a last resort. Ask yourself, do I want this person fired? Do I never want to work with them again? If the answer is no, keep it positive.

If you have things you want someone to work on, you can write the feedback in a positive way where you volunteer to help. So, instead of: "Associate X has poor written work product.", you can write "I would love to work with Associate X on further developing their writing."

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 22, 2022 2:15 pm

To echo and build on what's been said:

Biglaw attorneys suck at giving good feedback and being good managers. Be better. You absolutely should strive to give meaningful feedback, mentor and work to improve your juniors, be honest but good-natured regarding their mistakes, etc.

Reviews aren't the place to do any of this. If you're "giving feedback" in a review then something's already gone wrong in either your process or management approach. Whatever you might have to tell someone more junior than you, tell them outside of this piece of paper / electronic form that will only ever be used against them.

This sounds cynical, but I've come to believe that formal reviews in biglaw really only exist as a means of giving cover for terminating personnel and to justify passing people up for promotions (like to equity). They have only a negative function. So the best you can do is to give positive, mild feedback in a careful way. "Johnny is a great team player. He is willing to do what it takes. He is responsive and thoughtful. Research is well done. Good writer."
Last edited by Anonymous User on Thu Sep 22, 2022 2:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Res Ipsa Loquitter » Thu Sep 22, 2022 2:16 pm

My policy is two fold. If they’re really good, I write a serious positive review with actual details. If they’re just good or worse, then I write a brief less detailed puff piece. Don’t be the person who gives negative reviews — partners and HR can and do read those.

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by existentialcrisis » Thu Sep 22, 2022 2:54 pm

Res Ipsa Loquitter wrote:
Thu Sep 22, 2022 2:16 pm
My policy is two fold. If they’re really good, I write a serious positive review with actual details. If they’re just good or worse, then I write a brief less detailed puff piece. Don’t be the person who gives negative reviews — partners and HR can and do read those.
This is exactly how I’ve approached it.

I’ll write a detailed review for people I really like on the off chance it’ll help their career.

Otherwise I just write some short/generic positive nonsense.

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 22, 2022 2:58 pm

This is the OP, thanks so much for the responses.

I agree that I would prefer to give any notes to the junior directly, and I would like to avoid giving much (if any) critique to people above or below me (I mesh well with the poster who said it's just checking a box and moving on). That being said, I guess I just want to make sure that it isn't "expected" to give some criticism/critiques, and that nobody (e.g. partners) will be annoyed if I am just giving light fluff/only positive reviews.

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by trebekismyhero » Thu Sep 22, 2022 4:22 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Sep 22, 2022 2:58 pm
This is the OP, thanks so much for the responses.

I agree that I would prefer to give any notes to the junior directly, and I would like to avoid giving much (if any) critique to people above or below me (I mesh well with the poster who said it's just checking a box and moving on). That being said, I guess I just want to make sure that it isn't "expected" to give some criticism/critiques, and that nobody (e.g. partners) will be annoyed if I am just giving light fluff/only positive reviews.
No one will care that you, a still fairly junior associate only writes a positive review

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 22, 2022 5:07 pm

Write a "look forward to working with associate X on X skill" review for the junior doing a poor job (assuming you've talked with the junior about their lousy work or attitude and they still don't care) for three reasons:

1) You likely have more insight into their work than anyone else.
2) If you don't build a paper trail, they can stick around and make life worse for everyone else.
3) Some people legitimately can't improve unless they receive poor reviews that match the less-than-stellar real-time feedback they've been receiving.

Mixed signals are depressing and confusing for the recipient. If an associate does not understand that they need to improve, they'll never have a chance to turn it around. On the other side of the coin, an associate that doesn't care and knows they are doing a poor job will take your fluff review as a sign that they can survive another year and continue to irritate you.

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 22, 2022 6:21 pm

Stick to fluff unless you want them fired.

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 22, 2022 6:58 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Sep 22, 2022 5:07 pm
Write a "look forward to working with associate X on X skill" review for the junior doing a poor job (assuming you've talked with the junior about their lousy work or attitude and they still don't care) for three reasons:

1) You likely have more insight into their work than anyone else.
2) If you don't build a paper trail, they can stick around and make life worse for everyone else.
3) Some people legitimately can't improve unless they receive poor reviews that match the less-than-stellar real-time feedback they've been receiving.

Mixed signals are depressing and confusing for the recipient. If an associate does not understand that they need to improve, they'll never have a chance to turn it around. On the other side of the coin, an associate that doesn't care and knows they are doing a poor job will take your fluff review as a sign that they can survive another year and continue to irritate you.
(that one guy everyone hates)

Do not do this. Don't be this guy. Stick to true positive or check the box fluff and move on with your life. As has already been said, there's a time for real constructive feedback and the time isn't through a formal review used as cover when they want to fire people. Also, it's not your job to "build a paper trail" or worry about whether the associate will "stick around and make life worse."

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 22, 2022 7:29 pm

negative or neutral feedback is effectively lethal

you have to understand this

unless they made your life a living hell and are irredeemable, do not leave negative or neutral feedback

you are effectively recommending that they be fired

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 22, 2022 8:31 pm

I write a scathing review of a partner who is a shitty person and was happy to have done it. Fuck him

But yes, be kind to your juniors. Don’t be the reason someone gets let go if/when terminations start going out.

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 22, 2022 9:22 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Sep 22, 2022 6:58 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Sep 22, 2022 5:07 pm
Write a "look forward to working with associate X on X skill" review for the junior doing a poor job (assuming you've talked with the junior about their lousy work or attitude and they still don't care) for three reasons:

1) You likely have more insight into their work than anyone else.
2) If you don't build a paper trail, they can stick around and make life worse for everyone else.
3) Some people legitimately can't improve unless they receive poor reviews that match the less-than-stellar real-time feedback they've been receiving.

Mixed signals are depressing and confusing for the recipient. If an associate does not understand that they need to improve, they'll never have a chance to turn it around. On the other side of the coin, an associate that doesn't care and knows they are doing a poor job will take your fluff review as a sign that they can survive another year and continue to irritate you.
(that one guy everyone hates)

Do not do this. Don't be this guy. Stick to true positive or check the box fluff and move on with your life. As has already been said, there's a time for real constructive feedback and the time isn't through a formal review used as cover when they want to fire people. Also, it's not your job to "build a paper trail" or worry about whether the associate will "stick around and make life worse."
Surely you can think of someone who makes the work environment bad for everyone? I'm not talking about the bottom 40%. I'm talking about the bottom 5%, 1 out of every 20. I'm also talking about people who do not want to improve despite communication that they need to improve.

When work dries up and people are let go, it should be the folks who are miserable to work with and do not care who are first given the talk. If you trust your judgment, you should be a part of the process of identifying those people. If you don't do this, good people might get the axe first.

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Sep 22, 2022 11:49 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Sep 22, 2022 9:22 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Sep 22, 2022 6:58 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Sep 22, 2022 5:07 pm
Write a "look forward to working with associate X on X skill" review for the junior doing a poor job (assuming you've talked with the junior about their lousy work or attitude and they still don't care) for three reasons:

1) You likely have more insight into their work than anyone else.
2) If you don't build a paper trail, they can stick around and make life worse for everyone else.
3) Some people legitimately can't improve unless they receive poor reviews that match the less-than-stellar real-time feedback they've been receiving.

Mixed signals are depressing and confusing for the recipient. If an associate does not understand that they need to improve, they'll never have a chance to turn it around. On the other side of the coin, an associate that doesn't care and knows they are doing a poor job will take your fluff review as a sign that they can survive another year and continue to irritate you.
(that one guy everyone hates)

Do not do this. Don't be this guy. Stick to true positive or check the box fluff and move on with your life. As has already been said, there's a time for real constructive feedback and the time isn't through a formal review used as cover when they want to fire people. Also, it's not your job to "build a paper trail" or worry about whether the associate will "stick around and make life worse."
Surely you can think of someone who makes the work environment bad for everyone? I'm not talking about the bottom 40%. I'm talking about the bottom 5%, 1 out of every 20. I'm also talking about people who do not want to improve despite communication that they need to improve.

When work dries up and people are let go, it should be the folks who are miserable to work with and do not care who are first given the talk. If you trust your judgment, you should be a part of the process of identifying those people. If you don't do this, good people might get the axe first.
It's really not hard to know who are the bottom 5%. They usually leave on their own but of they don't, just work with other people. It's not your money, don't harm people for no reason.

It's no coincidence that shitty people like you can't get the top 95% to work for them

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Res Ipsa Loquitter » Fri Sep 23, 2022 12:58 am

Agreed that you don’t need reviews to identify good or bad people. People at law firms talk a lot. People talked behind my back and identified me as a good associate — no reviews were needed. I’m not giving anyone a bad review, regardless of how much I dislike them, because the gossip is already rough enough.

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by RedNewJersey » Fri Sep 23, 2022 9:56 am

Obviously this is not the conventional view, but I generally give honest feedback. I think it helps the person and the firm, and it's what I would want people to do for me, and what the firm suggests it actually wants.

So, for upward reviews, that means I list the specific things they could do to be more effective, with examples. For reviews of people that work for me, I say things they did well, and times when they did not and how it could be better in the future. This should not be "x is a jerk and terrible at her job" but "x missed several deadlines on y project and should work on planning ahead better or managing her workload."

It's true that people often don't do that, but I view that as an agency cost. Feedback is just valuable information that the firm and the person can use. I think the idea that it will get someone fired is ludicrous. But I also don't really see it as my role to prevent the firm from firing someone who they believe they should fire if given accurate information.

I also really don't like it when I get puff reviews. I want to improve on things, and can't unless people tell me how to get better. Also, I disagree that people should do feedback some other time. That rarely happens, and the point of the formal review process is to encourage it.

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Sep 23, 2022 10:02 am

RedNewJersey wrote:
Fri Sep 23, 2022 9:56 am
Obviously this is not the conventional view, but I generally give honest feedback. I think it helps the person and the firm, and it's what I would want people to do for me, and what the firm suggests it actually wants.

So, for upward reviews, that means I list the specific things they could do to be more effective, with examples. For reviews of people that work for me, I say things they did well, and times when they did not and how it could be better in the future. This should not be "x is a jerk and terrible at her job" but "x missed several deadlines on y project and should work on planning ahead better or managing her workload."

It's true that people often don't do that, but I view that as an agency cost. Feedback is just valuable information that the firm and the person can use. I think the idea that it will get someone fired is ludicrous. But I also don't really see it as my role to prevent the firm from firing someone who they believe they should fire if given accurate information.

I also really don't like it when I get puff reviews. I want to improve on things, and can't unless people tell me how to get better.
Here's what you're missing: the convention has become not to put negative feedback, so if you do you are causing disproportionate harm. You might disagree with this "rating inflation" but when you as an individual rate someone poorly because you think they can improve but are overall a decent employee, the message the firm gets is "this person should be fired immediately". If that's your intention and you really think this associate is that bad, fine. But if you really just want to let the associate know that they should improve on xyz then just...tell them.

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Sackboy » Fri Sep 23, 2022 11:10 am

Have to agree. Any semblance of negativity in a review just kind of sucks. It feels like "why wasn't I talked to about this earlier?" and "fuck, not it's in writing as an official eval" and "if someone told me about this, I would have fixed it." It can sour a day and your mood in general about people you work with or the firm. Instead, if you give constant feedback to others you work with (in a constructive manner) and leave a positive review saying they're doing a great job/or growing into the role well, you'll make these associates feel much better about themselves, the people they work with, and the firm. I'd only leave a negative review if you needed to flag someone who was truly toxic or are an asshole.

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Sep 23, 2022 12:14 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 23, 2022 10:02 am
RedNewJersey wrote:
Fri Sep 23, 2022 9:56 am
Obviously this is not the conventional view, but I generally give honest feedback. I think it helps the person and the firm, and it's what I would want people to do for me, and what the firm suggests it actually wants.

So, for upward reviews, that means I list the specific things they could do to be more effective, with examples. For reviews of people that work for me, I say things they did well, and times when they did not and how it could be better in the future. This should not be "x is a jerk and terrible at her job" but "x missed several deadlines on y project and should work on planning ahead better or managing her workload."

It's true that people often don't do that, but I view that as an agency cost. Feedback is just valuable information that the firm and the person can use. I think the idea that it will get someone fired is ludicrous. But I also don't really see it as my role to prevent the firm from firing someone who they believe they should fire if given accurate information.

I also really don't like it when I get puff reviews. I want to improve on things, and can't unless people tell me how to get better.
Here's what you're missing: the convention has become not to put negative feedback, so if you do you are causing disproportionate harm. You might disagree with this "rating inflation" but when you as an individual rate someone poorly because you think they can improve but are overall a decent employee, the message the firm gets is "this person should be fired immediately". If that's your intention and you really think this associate is that bad, fine. But if you really just want to let the associate know that they should improve on xyz then just...tell them.
Here’s a dumb analogy. I used to work in academia where you had to get letters of recommendation for jobs (and jobs are INCREDIBLY hard to get). Profs who had trained in the UK were trained on the convention that if you said only good things, the letter would look unrealistic and you should put in one (slight) negative to show you were being objective about the candidate. But in American academia, that convention didn’t exist. So someone with a British recommender might lose out at a job because their competition all had glowing letters without any reference to a flaw ever, and the British letter made them look bad.

So I guess it boils down to what purpose you think the annual review serves. If you think it’s genuinely a time for professional development and nothing more, sure, write honestly. If you think it’s more a tool for a firm to decide who to get rid of, don’t give an honest critique unless you really think the person should be let go. (And the potential for it being a tool for getting rid of people seems way too high to dismiss.)

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by nealric » Tue Sep 27, 2022 2:26 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 23, 2022 12:14 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 23, 2022 10:02 am
RedNewJersey wrote:
Fri Sep 23, 2022 9:56 am
Obviously this is not the conventional view, but I generally give honest feedback. I think it helps the person and the firm, and it's what I would want people to do for me, and what the firm suggests it actually wants.

So, for upward reviews, that means I list the specific things they could do to be more effective, with examples. For reviews of people that work for me, I say things they did well, and times when they did not and how it could be better in the future. This should not be "x is a jerk and terrible at her job" but "x missed several deadlines on y project and should work on planning ahead better or managing her workload."

It's true that people often don't do that, but I view that as an agency cost. Feedback is just valuable information that the firm and the person can use. I think the idea that it will get someone fired is ludicrous. But I also don't really see it as my role to prevent the firm from firing someone who they believe they should fire if given accurate information.

I also really don't like it when I get puff reviews. I want to improve on things, and can't unless people tell me how to get better.
Here's what you're missing: the convention has become not to put negative feedback, so if you do you are causing disproportionate harm. You might disagree with this "rating inflation" but when you as an individual rate someone poorly because you think they can improve but are overall a decent employee, the message the firm gets is "this person should be fired immediately". If that's your intention and you really think this associate is that bad, fine. But if you really just want to let the associate know that they should improve on xyz then just...tell them.
Here’s a dumb analogy. I used to work in academia where you had to get letters of recommendation for jobs (and jobs are INCREDIBLY hard to get). Profs who had trained in the UK were trained on the convention that if you said only good things, the letter would look unrealistic and you should put in one (slight) negative to show you were being objective about the candidate. But in American academia, that convention didn’t exist. So someone with a British recommender might lose out at a job because their competition all had glowing letters without any reference to a flaw ever, and the British letter made them look bad.

So I guess it boils down to what purpose you think the annual review serves.If you think it’s genuinely a time for professional development and nothing more, sure, write honestly. If you think it’s more a tool for a firm to decide who to get rid of, don’t give an honest critique unless you really think the person should be let go. (And the potential for it being a tool for getting rid of people seems way too high to dismiss.)
If you think that, you are probably being a bit naïve.

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Re: Giving Annual Reviews - Be honest or just nice?

Post by Anonymous User » Tue Sep 27, 2022 2:30 pm

nealric wrote:
Tue Sep 27, 2022 2:26 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 23, 2022 12:14 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Sep 23, 2022 10:02 am
RedNewJersey wrote:
Fri Sep 23, 2022 9:56 am
Obviously this is not the conventional view, but I generally give honest feedback. I think it helps the person and the firm, and it's what I would want people to do for me, and what the firm suggests it actually wants.

So, for upward reviews, that means I list the specific things they could do to be more effective, with examples. For reviews of people that work for me, I say things they did well, and times when they did not and how it could be better in the future. This should not be "x is a jerk and terrible at her job" but "x missed several deadlines on y project and should work on planning ahead better or managing her workload."

It's true that people often don't do that, but I view that as an agency cost. Feedback is just valuable information that the firm and the person can use. I think the idea that it will get someone fired is ludicrous. But I also don't really see it as my role to prevent the firm from firing someone who they believe they should fire if given accurate information.

I also really don't like it when I get puff reviews. I want to improve on things, and can't unless people tell me how to get better.
Here's what you're missing: the convention has become not to put negative feedback, so if you do you are causing disproportionate harm. You might disagree with this "rating inflation" but when you as an individual rate someone poorly because you think they can improve but are overall a decent employee, the message the firm gets is "this person should be fired immediately". If that's your intention and you really think this associate is that bad, fine. But if you really just want to let the associate know that they should improve on xyz then just...tell them.
Here’s a dumb analogy. I used to work in academia where you had to get letters of recommendation for jobs (and jobs are INCREDIBLY hard to get). Profs who had trained in the UK were trained on the convention that if you said only good things, the letter would look unrealistic and you should put in one (slight) negative to show you were being objective about the candidate. But in American academia, that convention didn’t exist. So someone with a British recommender might lose out at a job because their competition all had glowing letters without any reference to a flaw ever, and the British letter made them look bad.

So I guess it boils down to what purpose you think the annual review serves.If you think it’s genuinely a time for professional development and nothing more, sure, write honestly. If you think it’s more a tool for a firm to decide who to get rid of, don’t give an honest critique unless you really think the person should be let go. (And the potential for it being a tool for getting rid of people seems way too high to dismiss.)
If you think that, you are probably being a bit naïve.
To be fair, I forgive more junior and midlevel attorneys for thinking this because they aren't necessarily up to speed. For a few years I was under the (wrong) notion that the reviews were meant to meaningfully improve young attorneys and staff. Obviously I was an idiot for a few years there. If you're still thinking this as a senior associate though, you're not getting things.

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