BY CAREN ULRICH STACY AND JEANNE M. PICHT CPlayer Problem
LAW FIRMS HAVE A VERY EXPENSIVE TALENT PROBLEM: C PLAYERS.
These are the associates who lack judgment, write poorly,
miss critical issues or don’t take ownership. Partners write
off their time and eventually stop giving them work altogether. Because that work still needs to get done, it is all
too often dumped on A players, creating morale problems
for the best associates. The C players linger until the firm
eventually terminates them for low billable hours or poor
performance. Or, in some firms, management invests in
expensive course correction efforts. If the rehabilitation
fails, the firm then often expends additional resources for
outplacement. Whatever the final result, C players cost
firms significant money and create extra work for partners and other associates.
C players are as expensive to hire as A and B players but
deliver less profit, lower-quality work and require additional time and resources to manage—time that could be
spent developing, advancing and retaining the A and B
players. (See The Cost of a Single C Player on page 54.)
As directors of lawyer hiring and development at major
midsize and large law firms across the country, we have
spent the last two decades living this C player Groundhog
Day scenario: Hire. Develop. Evaluate. Correct. Evaluate
again. Correct again. Shift work. Terminate. This dreadful
routine can last two to three years before termination or
a voluntary departure. In these times of doing more with
less, this pattern is incompatible with the high-quality and
greater-efficiency demands of today’s clients, and contrib-
utes, almost invisibly, to shrinking profit margins for firms.
THE SOURCE OF THE PROBLEM
The C player problem exists for two main reasons. First,
law firms seriously underinvest in the time and tools necessary to weed out potential low performers during the
hiring process. Second, firms are incredibly slow to fire
anyone. In short, firms don’t strategically “cull the herd” at
any point in the talent pipeline.
See if this hypothetical law firm’s approach to hiring sounds familiar. The firm recruits associates from
the same law schools year after year. When they add a
school, it is usually because the newly elected managing
partner or another bigwig lawyer in the firm went there.
Or, when they drop a school, they typically drop a lower-tier school. After all, the top schools produce better law-