Maintain a Beneficial Relationship with a Departing Attorney (Even If It’s Not on Their Terms)
With every attorney’s exit, law firms should strive to maintain a positive professional relationship for their own business health. Anyone who leaves is a potential client or referral source, so firms should be focused on making sure that they value each departing attorney throughout their transition.
Remember that many of the attorneys who embark on a job search after working in a law firm are doing so for the first time. If the main on-ramp to your firm is interviewing law students on campus, you’re often dealing with attorneys who conducted their search exclusively through an artificially predictable process with rigid rules and predictable timelines. Therefore, many do not understand how to run a typical search.
Engaging an external outplacement provider with expertise in the legal realm to serve as a dedicated career coach is only the beginning of setting an attorney up for success in their transition. If your firm has not already done so, develop a common practice for separating attorneys and start creating a custom off-boarding plan before you inform an attorney that they must pursue opportunities outside your firm.
1. OFFER SPECIFICS ABOUT HOW YOU CAN HELP
Simply encouraging the attorney to let the firm know how it can help is almost never enough guidance. The most important contribution that professional development and human resources professionals can make to the departing attorney is to provide a clear picture of the support that is available to them. No matter what prompted the attorney’s departure, they may wonder exactly what support they should ask for or reasonably expect as they plan their separation from the practice. Tell them exactly what’s on the table.
2. ASSIST IN CLARIFYING THEIR MESSAGING OR CAREER PATH
An attorney who becomes a job seeker on the firm’s timetable rather than their own often suffers a blow to their confidence — how can they articulate their value proposition? Collaboratively examine the relationships that the attorney has developed through consistent work pairings or mentor/mentee activities, and encourage them to pursue open dialogues about perceived technical and interpersonal strengths.
Trusted advisers can also help an attorney evaluate possible next steps. It may help an attorney to hear what supervisors would recommend as potential targets based on their perspective on the attorney’s apparent gifts. Should they target another firm with a different platform, billable-hour requirement, rate structure, pace or culture? An in-house role as more of a business person or with narrower or broader responsibilities? Or should they take a nontraditional path that’s partially or completely different from law?