I ruminated once about how law departments might grant hourly rate increases to law firm lawyers not simply because a year has passed but because the lawyers have gained some demonstrably increased ability (See my post of Nov. 13, 2006 on the rationale to grant requests for rate increases and discounts; and Nov. 21, 2005 on the need for law firms to show increased productivity.).
A law department might take the same approach for its own members. “Show me how you are better now than last year in meeting the needs of this department and company, and I will base your merit raise – if any – on that increase in productivity.” What would this do? My cynical answer is that it will push lawyers to manufacture ostensible improvements in their capacities (See my post of April 8, 2005 about dumb SMART goals and their distorting effect.). Managers who evaluate those supposed extra skills will be no better off.
Law departments shouldn’t reward lawyers for expanding their jobs or moving up the hierarchy (aka promotions), but for increasing their skills, adding to their expertise, and managing their groups more effectively. That aspiration is easier to say than to do.