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The pros and cons of published promotion criteria

Many general counsel have wrestled with the clamoring of their lawyers to gain more clarity about what it takes to be promoted. One department I consulted to developed an elaborate table where each row was one level in the law department and each column had a summary of what was expected of a lawyer in that level. There were about seven columns, covering such attributes as knowledge of the law, familiarity with the business, productivity, judgment and leadership. Elaborate and impressive, yes; useful, I doubt it.

A matrix of increasing skills and abilities sounds sensible, but if you prepare one you need to prepare one for every level in the department. That is, paralegals, administrative, and other staff members deserve to know what it takes to rise as much as do the lawyers.

A second drawback is that inevitably when you describe what it takes to be promoted you can’t completely and accurately describe what are essentially subjective judgments. By subjective I mean you can’t fully write down what it is that they are looking for when they debate whether a promotion is appropriate.

A third snag is that it really boils down to saying that a person at each level should be possessed of more and better traits than a person below. The spectrum is not one of clear distinctions but rather gradations of capability. This pushes descriptions to be high level and generalized.

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