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Evaluate law firms and the grade them on their defensiveness!

“Twice a year, Pfizer gives each firm a report card – and then grades them on how well they take the feedback.” In roughly those words the general counsel of Pfizer, Amy Schulman, described the feedback her department’s 19 alliance law firms receive – and how they are graded on the way they take the feedback. Mind you, those fortunate firms “get a disproportionate share of her half-billion budget,” so they can quite well afford to put on a grateful face, welcome all criticisms, and earnestly vow to get better.

Even so, the risk of falsity, of smiling agreement outside but possibly seething disagreement inside, makes me wonder about the advisability of criticism coupled with an assessment of how well the firm takes the criticism. If what Schulman actually said (or meant) was that Pfizer watches to see whether the firm takes action to deal with a criticism, that would be fine – but a different blog post. To judge demeanor and receptivity to feedback on the spot honors acting ability more than genuine appreciation of dialogue and a desire for improvement. The quotes, from the Am. Lawyer, Jan. 2011 at 90, are not direct quotes of Schulman but are the editor’s choice of words so they may be misconstrued.