The hand-wringing and anxiety often associated with giving notice are almost always completely unfounded. Some lawyers stay up at night imagining that their partners will crumble and wail upon hearing the bad news, while others imagine themselves telling the partnership to “take this job and shove it” or words to that effect…
But in most situations, submitting a resignation is neither as scary nor as fun as one might think. Remember that a resignation is a fairly simple business transaction – it’s ending one business relationship to start another. Although there may be complicated feelings of loyalty, excitement, resentment, and pride, it is, at its heart, a professional interaction.
When to resign
The first step in planning a resignation is deciding when to resign. Conventional wisdom says that Fridays are the best days to resign. People tend to believe that resigning on a Friday gives bosses and coworkers the weekend to process the news and prevents an immediate flurry of gossip mongering. Then there is the question of notice periods. Not all firms will require you to stay and work out all your notice, and the circumstances are highly dependant on workload, cover and where you are going. If it’s to a client, your firm should be flexible, if it’s to a competitor, then maybe not so much…
Prepare a letter of resignation
Once you’ve set the day to resign, you may want to prepare a letter of resignation. This should never be a long letter. It should be short, gracious, and precise. It should say that you are resigning your position at the firm and that you appreciate the opportunity the firm has given you and that you wish the people there the best of luck going forward. If you choose not to memorialise your resignation in writing, communicate these specific points to the appropriate person when you have his or her attention and privacy. Being gracious to one’s soon-to-be-former employer can be, especially after a particularly acrimonious relationship, difficult. But demonstrating maturity and professionalism for its own sake has value. Even if you don’t care what your superior thinks of you anymore, your new employer might. You may need a reference from your boss, so there’s no point in provoking him or her. References aside, the legal community can be very small, and it’s never a bad idea to stay on good terms with its members. It’s impossible to predict how your paths may cross down the road.
Many lawyers are concerned that partners who otherwise rave about them will turn dark and resentful and provide bad reviews as retribution for resignation. This concern is raised by our Route1 candidates again and again, only to find out that the partner in question has been gracious and glowing in his or her remarks to their future employer.
Perhaps this concern may be the result of a bit of healthy hubris. Your partners’ reviews are hopefully glowing and they rely on you heavily. But don’t become so impressed with yourself that you believe the only responses to your resignation will be despair and desperation. Expect the highest levels of professionalism from soon-to-be former bosses; you will probably get them.
Negotiate an exit interview
Law firms may conduct an exit interview. In this forum, avoid (again) the temptation to unleash a tirade detailing the firm’s shortcomings. While your intention may be to offer constructive criticism that will help shape the future of the firm, criticism offered on the way out the door is often perceived as sour grapes and is unlikely to be taken constructively. And also ask yourself why, if such a meeting was sincerely held in an attempt at engagement, it took place with you half out the door. Even when leaving of one’s own accord, quitting a job can feel like a breakup. It can be an emotional time, and people often say things they later regret.
Tie up any loose ends
Once you’ve gracefully given notice, make it your mission to leave nothing behind but good feelings. You will need to transition your work to the appropriate people. Be generous with your time as you bring others up to speed on client files. While it may seem like a resignation is all about you and the partners for whom you work, don’t forget that client matters are the most precious cargo to protect as you prepare to leave. Make sure you’ve left all client materials with the appropriate parties, and don’t put anyone in the position of having to search for a client file.
It is often appropriate to send an email to your colleagues shortly before actually leaving. Again, keep it gracious and short. If possible, you may want to provide your forwarding information. Take special care to provide accurate information to your old firm’s human resources department and to those who are taking over your workload. It’s good form to make yourself available for follow-up questions or administrative matters. Don’t allow your departure to cause undue work for a former colleague.
In short, be mature, but don’t linger longer than necessary. And once you are out the door, you’re likely to feel that it was far easier than you expected.
The Route1 Team