Authors:Vicky Ling
Last updated:2023-11-08
Appraisals and pay rises
Marc Bloomfield
Getting your appraisal and pay rise procedures right is vital to ensure your practice runs smoothly and your staff are happy and motivated, not to mention being an important factor in maintaining quality standards.
Appraisal, sometimes called performance management, is the evaluation of work activities by comparing the job/role description and previously agreed objectives with actual performance. It is a good opportunity to review whether the job description still reflects what the person is doing or whether it needs to be updated, for example, because the person has taken on new responsibilities.
Appraisal gives the employee and the person carrying out the appraisal a chance to take a step back from day-to-day pressures and consider how things can be improved and what development activities and training should be planned over the next period. The aims of appraisal are generally to:
improve communication and promote improved shared understanding of roles and tasks;
review past performance and compare it with objectives previously set;
note achievements and acknowledge success;
note elements of the work that have been difficult and where success has not been achieved;
identify ways in which performance can be improved, eg, through training, changing working practices, etc;
agree objectives for the next year; and
discuss career aspirations.
Quality standards
Lexcel v6.11Lexcel England and Wales v6.1 standard for legal practices, Law Society, March 2018. is very flexible about when you should carry out appraisals and what they should include:
4.8 Practices must have a performance management policy, which must include:
a.the practice’s approach to performance management
b.performance review periods and timescales.
The Specialist Quality Mark v2.2 (SQM)2Specialist Quality Mark standard, Legal Aid Agency, March 2017. is more prescriptive about timing and recording:
D2.2: Performance appraisal of all members of staff takes place, and is undertaken at least annually.
Annual appraisals must be conducted for all members of staff (including partners, managers and external supervisors) other than with the auditor’s agreement (see guidance).
Appraisal records must detail existing and future objectives and be signed by both parties.
Conducting an appraisal
Appraisals need to coordinate with day-to-day supervision, so the employee’s supervisor should be able to give feedback on performance even if they are not the person’s line manager and are not otherwise involved.
Appraisal time should be protected from interruptions by people who are not concerned. A mutually convenient time should be agreed with sufficient notice for both parties to prepare. Many systems have a formal preparation stage as it may be helpful to give the employee an appraisal preparation form, say, a week in advance so that they have time to think about and complete it. Nothing that is said at an appraisal should come as a surprise: the feedback in an appraisal interview should be consistent with the feedback the person is receiving through day-to-day supervision/file reviews.
For caseworkers, appraisal needs to include an evaluation of the technical legal knowledge and skills required and an identification of legal training that should be undertaken, as well as practice skills and general career development. The Solicitors Regulation Authority statement of solicitor competence is a very useful guide.
Anything discussed in an appraisal is confidential, and needs to be kept between the employee and the management of the organisation only. Lexcel and SQM assessors will want to be satisfied that the appraisal records exist and that they cover both objective-setting and assessment, and the consideration of training needs, but the subject must have given permission before an assessor reads the records.
Some organisations choose to discuss pay increases at appraisal, others don’t. Some not-for-profit organisations use fixed incremental scales to increase pay on the basis of long service, so it is automatic. However, if someone has taken on additional responsibilities, there may be an argument for regrading and a higher salary. Whether there will be the money to pay for that is, of course, another matter …
Pay increases based on individual performance are always tricky. In most legal practices, you want to encourage teamwork, marketing/networking and cross-departmental referrals by all members of the practice, so creating a scheme based on bills paid will only work for some fee-earners and not support staff. Some firms award pay rises on the basis of departmental and/or overall profits in the last financial year for all staff. This seems fairer, but the accounting year may not coincide with the appraisal interval and it may have to be a separate exercise.
1     Lexcel England and Wales v6.1 standard for legal practices, Law Society, March 2018. »
2     Specialist Quality Mark standard, Legal Aid Agency, March 2017. »