Feedback: The Breakfast of Champions and Exceptional Lawyers

January 29, 2013

If you are one of those lawyers who is happy just the way you are, then perhaps feedback is not for you.  Your big book of business and super motivated team are feedback enough.  The proof is in the pudding after all.  However, if you have room for improvement – professional goals that you are struggling to reach, there is nothing like a heaping bowl of feedback to help you bridge the gap.

Most professionals needlessly stumble through their careers wondering the professional equivalent of “Honey, do I look fat in this dress?”  They deflect, dodge, and dispute feedback for it bears too close a resemblance to its distant cousins criticism and blame.  In some ways this frequent yet unfortunate response is understandable.  Soliciting feedback is a scary exercise.  Once that door is open there are no guarantees what will walk through it.

With most things in life, the greater the risk, the greater the reward.  The same is true of feedback.  For the brave few who are willing to engage in the exercise, the payoff can be tremendous.  In many cases, it can mean the difference between being an above average lawyer and an excellent lawyer.  It may very well be what you need to finally make partner, satisfy your most demanding clients, or kill your closing arguments.

That said, getting feedback is not to be undertaken lightly.  If done correctly it can be career changing, but in any case it is brutal (it’s hard to hear that the way you talk to your clients is not only condescending, but that on top of it, you often miss their meaning).  Therefore, if you do decide to seek it out, it is crucial that you have a solid process in place.

The gold standard for collecting feedback is to engage a trained professional to assist you by administering a 360-assessment.  This approach is akin to going to a doctor for your annual exam.  Sure you could always go to WebMD for your medical needs, but when you have a health issue that matters, it’s best to leave it to the experts.  The same can be said here.  In law school there is no training with regard to feedback – “The Art and Science of Feedback” is conspicuously absent from the roster.   If you are serious about improving and want to use feedback to do it, engaging a professional is the way to go.

However, if you are someone who never paid much mind to those “Don’t try this at home” TV warnings, there is a do-it-yourself way to go about it too.  If you are interested in learning about this alternative, be sure to tune in to the Westlaw Insider in two weeks time for my post on Feedback, DIY Style.