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Think You Don’t Need a Performance Management System?  

Respectfully, You’re Wrong.


Driving While Blind?

Imagine embarking on a cross-country adventure, eager to explore new horizons. You step off the plane, ready to hit the road, only to find yourself in a rental car devoid of crucial dashboard information. No speedometer, no gear indicator, no fuel gauge – just uncertainty ahead. Do you dare to navigate blindly, or do you seek clarity and data?

Running a prosecution office without a performance management system poses a similar conundrum. It's like driving without a dashboard – technically feasible, but fraught with risks and uncertainties. Without the right tools to gauge performance and progress, how can you steer your office toward success?


Case Study

Consider Joe¹, whose election as District Attorney heralded optimism and promises of positive change. Supported by former colleagues turned subordinates, Joe's leadership style initially leaned towards a "hands-off" approach, dismissing the outdated performance review system as ineffective and obsolete.

Despite his ambitious reforms and community engagement initiatives, Joe encountered significant obstacles. Operational challenges, dwindling morale, and mounting pressure underscored the need for change. The once vibrant enthusiasm for his leadership waned, evident in heightened turnover rates and a decline in qualified applicants seeking employment.

In a pivotal moment, Joe sought guidance and embraced a practical system to align employees with his vision, set clear expectations, and measure success. Collaborating with seasoned experts, they crafted a tailored approach to performance management that aligned with the office culture he sought to achieve. Despite brief initial pushback², the system was embraced by Joe’s management team and staff.  Within months, the office witnessed remarkable improvements in engagement, productivity, and morale. Joe's journey from uncertainty to clarity exemplified the transformative power of effective performance management.


Benefits of a Good Performance Management System

There are plenty of bad performance management systems in use today.  However, a well-constructed performance management system can be a powerful tool for achieving your organizational performance goals.  Here are some of the powerful benefits:

  1. Enhanced Employee Engagement and Morale: Clear expectations, constructive feedback, and growth opportunities foster a culture of trust and accountability, boosting morale and retention. High performers are energized by measurement – low performers not so much.

  2. Improved Performance and Productivity: Performance evaluations pinpoint strengths and areas for improvement, empowering employees to excel and driving organizational effectiveness.

  3. Alignment with Organizational Goals and Priorities: A well-designed system ensures individual objectives align with broader strategic goals, fostering unity and purpose among employees.

  4. Identification and Development of Talent: By recognizing high-potential employees and nurturing their skills, you cultivate a pipeline of future leaders and mitigate turnover risks.

  5. Enhanced Organizational Accountability, Transparency, and Trust: Transparent evaluation processes promote fairness and trust, fostering collaboration and accountability within the office.


So, What Does a Good Performance Management System Look Like?

Every office is unique and it’s important to tailor the system to the individual office’s organizational culture, goals, and specific needs. However, the following five components are present in all good systems.

  1. Clear Objectives and Expectations: This forms the foundation of the performance management system. Clear objectives and expectations provide employees with a roadmap for success and align their efforts with the goals of the prosecution office.

  1. Regular Goal Setting and Monitoring: Setting and monitoring goals ensures that employees have clear targets to work towards and enables supervisors to track progress and provide timely feedback. It also helps in course correction and adjustment of strategies as needed.

  2. Feedback and Coaching: Feedback and coaching play a vital role in employee development and performance improvement. Regular feedback sessions help employees understand their strengths and areas for improvement, fostering a culture of continuous learning and growth.

  3. Performance Reviews: Performance reviews provide a formal mechanism for evaluating employee performance and discussing progress towards goals. They help in identifying achievements, addressing performance issues, and planning for future development.

  4. Training and Development: Investing in training and development programs ensures that employees have the necessary skills and knowledge to perform their jobs effectively. Continuous learning opportunities also contribute to employee engagement and job satisfaction.


Sounds Great, But...

Navigating the creation and implementation of a performance management system may seem daunting. Here are common concerns and why they don’t hold water.

  1. I don’t have time to do this. A well-designed system saves time by providing positive feedback, allowing early issue detection, and fostering skill development. Investing time upfront yields long-term dividends in efficiency and effectiveness.

  2. I don’t want to micromanage people. Micromanagement and performance management are often confused, but they are two distinct concepts. Micromanagement is intense scrutiny and oversight of an employee’s work.  It creates low morale and turnover.  Performance management fosters trust, open communication, and ongoing learning, distinct from micromanagement. It empowers employees to take ownership of their growth and development.

  3. Managers will just give everyone the highest scores to avoid conflict. How many of us had management training in law school?  Anyone? (Crickets.) Most prosecution managers are successful trial attorneys who are promoted to their positions without any preparation for leadership roles that require an entirely different skill set.  Clear expectations, manager training, and regular feedback drive effective performance evaluations. Investing in manager development enhances their ability to provide constructive feedback and support employee growth.

  4. We are not making widgets or selling cars.  There are few objective metrics in our work, so any performance evaluation will be subjective and, therefore, not fair.Some managers may believe performance evaluations should be solely based on quantitative metrics such as trial wins and losses.  This is a misperception.  Performance evaluations can (and should!) incorporate both quantitative metrics and qualitative contributions to the office. Prosecutors can be evaluated on case preparation, alignment with policies and practices, and success in the courtroom, IN ADDITION TO intangibles such as alignment with values, work ethic, attitude, and teamwork.  By emphasizing observable behaviors and outcomes, instead of personality characteristics, evaluations remain fair.

  5. Reviews create drama and conflict. They just make matters worse. Properly done, constructive feedback and coaching don’t increase drama. Rather, they prevent conflict escalation and promote positive outcomes. Clear expectations, transparent communication, and a supportive environment foster a culture of continuous improvement.



Embracing a robust performance management system is not just about ticking boxes; it's about fostering a culture of excellence and accountability. By aligning goals, nurturing talent, and promoting transparency, you pave the way for organizational success. The journey may be challenging, but the reward – a thriving, high-performing office – is well worth the effort.


¹ Joe is an amalgamation of various Vera Causa Group clients who have implemented performance management systems. 

²  “Humans resist change.” – every parent or manager since the dawn of time.

Solving The Prosecutor Readiness Crisis in America

Are your Lawyers Trial-Ready? Here’s What to Do if They’re Not.


Unless you are just getting back from a four-year sabbatical in Siberia, you know unwanted turnover is a crisis in America’s prosecutor offices.¹ Caseloads and prosecutorial duties have ballooned, causing the lawyers who remain to feel overwhelmed and burnt out. This creates more turnover, and the vicious cycle repeats itself, with proper trial advocacy training as a primary casualty. Today’s DAs simply don’t have a bench of 20–30-year veterans to help coach and train young prosecutors like they used to have.  

I was terrified before my first jury trial in 1994.  I was a brand-new prosecutor in the City of St. Louis assigned to a fast-approaching jury trial in which my victim was beaten with a tire iron. After freezing momentarily, deer-in-the-headlight style, I got to work.  I walked up and down the halls of the office, talking to every prosecutor I saw about my case.  The tips and insights I received from those virtuoso prosecutors were worth their weight in gold.  I was prepared and confident when the trial day arrived, and I achieved justice with many of my advisors in the gallery cheering me on. They gave me feedback when the trial was over, enabling me to learn even more. This was the trial preparation process I repeated for every one of my first 20 jury trials. This was how I learned to be trial-ready.  If you are of my vintage, this probably sounds familiar.  If you are a young prosecutor, this probably makes you jealous.

The sad truth is that the old days are gone and will likely never return. There is simply not enough time or resources in most offices to properly train new prosecutors in-house.  We can no longer count on “on-the-job” training to produce the type of skilled prosecutors our caseloads demand. We need to find other ways to ensure that America’s prosecutors are ready for trial.

Many state and national prosecutor associations do a great job of holding an annual “boot camp” or other training programs to fill the gap.  Thank goodness for them!  Yet, state and national trainings alone do not meet the current demand.  These trainings can be inaccessible from a financial and resource perspective.  It can be impractical and very expensive to send several prosecutors out of town for training.  Many national trainings are designed to train a broad cross-section of the nation’s prosecutors and, therefore, may not take into consideration the specific needs of a particular office, jurisdiction, or community.²  


The Result of Inadequate Trial Training

Every elected or appointed prosecutor pledges to the community.  We pledge to do our best to pursue justice and to hold the right people accountable with skill and integrity, protecting the rights of all.  

This fundamental commitment breaks down if prosecutors are not properly trained.  Many offices fall victim to “the blind leading the blind” scenario where inexperienced lawyers train inexperienced lawyers causing preparation and advocacy failures to compound and perpetuate themselves.  The potential for both erroneous convictions and wrongful acquittals grows.  Caseloads continue to rise due to stress-related turnover and can soar to a level where it’s virtually impossible to meet discovery and Brady obligations.  Remember your pledge to the community?  At this point, it is impossible to keep.


What To Do?

Take a Clear-Eyed Look at the Situation

This may seem like a no-brainer – but sometimes it’s hard to see that your trial staff needs help.  No one wants to admit to the boss that they don’t know what they are doing.  Metrics like turnover rate and conviction rate can provide some clues, but we recommend digging a bit deeper. Consider an anonymous survey where your lawyers can tell you how they feel about their training levels.  Speak to other stakeholders – judges, defense attorneys, police witnesses, even court clerks and bailiffs.  Get their insights on how your team is doing.  Take a more granular look at your win/loss record.  Are you losing cases that you should be winning?  Are you charging cases that you shouldn’t?  Are your plea recommendations consistent?  Or do some lawyers plead everything out to avoid trial?  This information can form an accurate picture of the sufficiency of your trial advocacy training levels.

Take Heart and Take Action

Ready for some good news? There are solutions – some are even free! – to elevate your team’s trial-readiness.  

  1. Commit to prioritize training and development. There is no escaping the reality that developing a highly trained trial staff requires a commitment of time and organizational bandwidth.  There are dozens of urgent matters demanding your focus and attention – just today.  But when you think about your pledge to the community, you will realize that few matters are as important as making sure that your trial team can do their job with skill and integrity.

  2. Save resources by having the training come to you.  Instead of paying travel costs for one or two select members of your team to attend an out-of-town training, you can save money and train your entire team by bringing the training to your office.  Many of our clients have arranged for trial advocacy training during a non-jury week in their circuit, so all lawyers could attend.  This approach fosters a team culture and ensures everyone learns the same material at the same time.  A bonus: the training can be customized to fit your jurisdiction and challenges.

  3. Trim costs with virtual training.  The pandemic silver lining is that we all realized we could do things via video conference that we never thought possible. Eureka! These days it’s possible to do trial advocacy via Zoom.  Our clients can opt for 100% virtual learning or can utilize our unique hybrid approach wherein the lecture portion of training is offered virtually followed by in-person practice drills.  This popular approach saves money while still providing students the full benefit of in-person instructors and real-time feedback.

  4. Go “on-demand.” You may choose to do your trial advocacy training utilizing only pre-recorded lectures.  While less interactive, pre-recorded lectures can be an effective way to provide quality training to new prosecutors.  We recommend showing lectures to a group of attorneys and then engaging in discussion or practice afterward.  We have pre-recorded lectures on multiple topics, from basic to advanced advocacy.  

  5. Partner up. Combining with neighboring jurisdictions makes trial advocacy training much more affordable.  We recently conducted a training where several small jurisdictions combined to have a regional trial advocacy training.

  6. Explore grant funding.  Many clients hire us for trial advocacy training with grant funds.  There are numerous sources of funding including the NTTAC program from BJA and Byrne grants.  Many state and local governments also have funding to assist prosecutors with training.  Area colleges and law schools are also helpful in providing facilities for training.

  7. Bring in alumni as instructors. If you are one of the many offices that do not have a wealth of experienced prosecutors to conduct in-house training, consider asking seasoned alumni to come back to give a lecture or two.  Sometimes these former assistants who’ve “walked the walk” in your jurisdiction make excellent, compelling instructors for the new lawyers.  Many alumni are still public servants at heart and are willing to volunteer their time for the good of the office.

  8. Create a structured mentorship/trial coach program. Properly done, formal mentorship programs can be an effective way to provide training for newer lawyers.  What do we mean by formal?  It’s magical thinking to believe that mentorships will happen organically in 2024.  Despite good intentions, the frantic pace of prosecutor work will relegate mentorship relationships to the back burner in the absence of clear guidance on structure and expectations.  We recommend a formal pairing of experienced and less experienced lawyers, combined with training for both mentor and mentee on creating success in their relationship.  Clear guidelines on roles, frequency of meetings, and second chairing must be in place.  Leadership must also require scheduled check-ins with all parties to make sure the mentorship program is working as intended.

  9. Create a feedback culture.  Encourage your lawyers to seek feedback after every trial.  The judge, their colleagues, and even court personnel can provide valuable feedback for new lawyers.  Make it an expectation that everyone seeks feedback from each other regularly.


The landscape of trial advocacy training has changed, and we are challenged to change with it.  To address the crisis, prosecutor offices must prioritize trial readiness by implementing innovative training approaches such as virtual and on-demand learning, exploring grant funding, engaging alumni as instructors, and establishing structured mentorship programs. Embracing a feedback culture is also crucial for continuous improvement. By taking these proactive steps, prosecutor offices can ensure that their attorneys are adequately prepared to uphold justice and serve the community effectively in the courtroom.


¹ For an extensive discussion of the turnover problem and its complex causes see Gershowitz, Adam M., The Prosecutor Vacancy Crisis (December 15, 2023). William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-480, Available at SSRN: or

² For example, a prosecutor in Maryland expressed frustration at spending a day talking about voir dire in a national training when, in her state, the judges conduct voir dire.

Why Your Top Prosecutors are Leaving – And What You Can Do to Stop Them


Should I use social media in my office?
Q: “I’m considering having a Facebook page for my office, but I’m worried about trolls leaving negative comments. Is it ok to have a Facebook page and not allow comments?”
Not really. Here's why ⬇️ 
     It’s possible to disable comments on your Facebook page, but we don’t usually
recommend it to our clients.
     While it's understandable to be worried about negative comments, it's essential to strike
balance between engagement and maintaining a positive online presence. By allowing
comments, you create an opportunity for open dialogue and transparency with your community. It builds trust by showing that you value their feedback, concerns, and suggestions. B
y blocking comments, you may unintentionally limit the opportunity for meaningful interactions and valuable insights.
     A possible solution? Consider a balanced approach. The First Amendment protects free speech, but it doesn't necessarily require government offices to provide a platform for all types of speech. Enable comments but establish clear community guidelines to ensure respectful and constructive conversations. An example would be to prohibit profanity, hate speech or name calling. This empowers you to remove any inappropriate or offensive content while fostering a positive online environment. Post these guidelines prominently on your Facebook page.
     Caveat: You may not bar or remove comments solely because they are critical of you and/or your office. However, these comments are often very good opportunities to correct misinformation and set the record straight. We recommend responding ONCE to the critical comment in a professional manner with the goal of educating other readers. Resist the urge to respond further – you will just be feeding the troll.

Generational Communication
Q: "My new lawyers only want to communicate by text, and then when I text them, they don’t reply for hours or even days! What can I do?"
A: Be patient. Be open. Bridge the generational gap
     Generational differences are nothing new -- they just seem more intense right now
with five generations in the workplace. Communication style is an area that can create
generational conflict if it is not managed properly.
Here are some communication tips:
➡️ Set clear expectations: Establish guidelines for communication within your team or organization. Clearly communicate how and when different communication channels should be used. This will help avoid misunderstandings and ensure everyone is on the same page.
➡️ Always assume noble intent on the part of the employee. Don’t jump to the conclusion that the team member is intentionally being disrespectful.
➡️ Provide training and resources: Offer training sessions or resources that educate employees on different communication styles and help bridge the generational gap. This can include workshops, webinars, or even mentorship programs where employees can learn from one another. 
     Remember, effective communication is essential for a productive and harmonious workplace. The time you invest in creating clear communication expectations will pay dividends in the future.

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