Many lawyers, doctors, and other professionals prefer to think of themselves as in business for themselves, merely using a group to provide office space, support services, and occasional camaraderie. This assumed sense of personal independence undergoes a rude awakening when a senior partner calls you into his/her office to detail for you, without your asking, how you are perceived. Some of the thoughts that may go through your head at a time like this are: "Just who the hell is he/she to be judging me?" "All that negative stuff has been coming from X, who has been talking behind my back. I knew I couldn't trust him/her." "He/She acted as if he/she thought I was pretty cool. Now the truth comes out!" "I feel dirty. I am neither as good nor as bad as they say." "Why is all this ancient stuff being drudged up and thrown in my face?" Recognize yourself in any of this? Had similar feelings? It is normal. By understanding anyone's normal self-centered and defensive reaction to being judged and realizing that your feelings are automatically programmed to respond self-protectively in such situations, you have won half the battle, because with understanding can come a modicum of control.

Surviving a bad performance review

You can't avoid professional criticism. You may have strong opinions as to the innate fairness of the appraisal process. You may be unfairly damaged and have documents to prove it. You may be thinking that you're being criticized for stuff that happened months ago and is no longer relevant. Regardless, the criticism hurts and remains potentially lethal as long as it sits in some partner's drawer, already signed off on by other partners. Well, if you've ever felt abused by the performance-review process, you're not alone. Such heart-to-heart talks trouble everybody. What you need is a survival strategy to deal with performance appraisals. Otherwise, they can drive you nuts.

Then there is this alarming news: As law firms continue to be operated more like businesses (as opposed to being run like private men's clubs), the performance appraisal becomes an important tool for weeding people out as well as identifying top performers. According to Ellen Wayne of the New York Law Journal, "Evaluations have taken on an importance they never had before. Associates are not only judged on the basis of their work skills and performance targets, but now have the added anxiety that termination could be the result of a less-than-glowing review."