“It never ends well. It can’t end well. Don’t try to make it end well.” – Lawyer Friend to Me.
The usual advice goes something like this: Professionals should give four weeks notice; do everything possible to leave on good terms; and send a joint letter to clients.
That advice sounds nice. It’s the path that I tried going down.
Leaving a firm is a divorce. Assets and liabilities get divided. Feelings get hurt. Living in the “marital residence” after filing is awkward at best.
After speaking with many respected attorneys about this, here’s what I wished I’d done.
1. Left within 36 hours of giving my notice. The ripping of the bandaid approach. It would have been painful but it would have been over quickly. I remained in my position for 6 weeks after giving my notice. Without going into specifics, that was foolish on my part.
2. Consider hiring a lawyer. Advocating for myself in an emotionally charged situation was impossible. Paying a third party to handle the discussions that need to be had about files, transition, and severance would have made life less painful.
3. You can’t serve two masters. In my case, working for a firm while trying to set up my firm was impossible. While I was used to working late at night on Freed McKeen, LLC – there’s some business, like banking, that can only be done during work hours. The conflicts are inevitable and overwhelming. Follow rule #1.
4. Do not expect your current employers to be supportive. The second you give your notice they’ll view you as a competitor. You are either with them or against them. You are against them.
5. Lean on your support network. Leaving is hard. It is going to be hard. Especially if you had a good relationship with your firm prior to giving your notice. The advice and support of my family, Meghan, Kristen, other lawyers, and friends has made all the difference.
6. As always, consult with your local ethics rules and follow them. I spent many hours reading ethics opinions. Strongly consider following rule #2.
Those are my thoughts. Not legal advice. Strongly consider hiring a lawyer if you are opening your own firm or making a lateral move.
It can’t end well. It can end less painfully.