We’ve all heard a lot this year about “The Great Resignation.” As is the case in many industries, law firms are contending with an unusual volume of resignations. In our role as recruiters, we at Lateral Link have a front row seat into both the mechanics of the resignation process and also the emotional angst that it sometimes entails. From uncertainty over the decision to resign to a lack of knowledge of how to give notice in a professional manner to anxiety over how to respond to a counter-offer, lawyers who are considering leaving their jobs have a lot on their mind.
This week we’re taking a look at some of these issues, in two parts. Today we address how to prepare for and execute a smooth resignation, while managing the emotions accompanying this process. On Thursday, we will discuss counter-offers.
Managing doubts about the decision to leave
For some people, the decision to resign is an easy one, but others really struggle with it. Perhaps it’s fear of the unknown, fear of burning bridges or disappointing people, or self-doubt about one’s ability to succeed elsewhere. If you experience this anxiety, keep in mind that it’s normal, and it doesn’t mean you’re making a bad decision. At the end of the day, you have to trust your gut. You’ve weighed the pros and cons and made a thoughtful determination about what’s best for you and your career. Be confident and comfortable in this choice and know that you are doing the right thing, even if the process isn’t a fun one.
Resigning is like ripping off a band aid — the fear is generally worse than the act itself. Nine times out of ten, your manager is an experienced professional and will have been in this situation before, so it will only be awkward if you make it that way. If you commit to leaving in the most professional and ethical way possible, the knowledge that you’re going about the process in the right way should help to calm your nerves.
Timing your resignation
Start by getting your ducks in a row prior to resigning. Do your best to tie up loose ends and stay on top of your workload to avoid a scramble when your last day comes.
Try to arrange it so that immediately before resigning, you have time to do whatever it is that helps you de-stress: meditation, deep breaths, exercise, or yoga can set you in the right frame of mind. Give notice first thing in the morning when your mind is clear, stress level is lower, and your boss is more likely to be around. If you wait until the end of the day, you may find your boss is distracted or busy with other matters.
Give at least two-weeks’ notice. Not offering any notice at all is completely unprofessional. Even if you think your employer will want you to leave immediately, it is customary to at least offer to stay on for two weeks to help transition your matters. Once you resign, leave promptly after your notice period ends. Each of us is fungible, so there is no good reason to stick around for an extra week or two.
Who to tell?
You should resign to just one person, preferably your direct supervisor or department head — even if you don’t like that person. There’s no need to reach out to several members of management, and you shouldn’t tip off your resignation to other colleagues beforehand.
Resign in person (or if necessary, via video). Don’t resign by e-mail, voice mail, or letter (unless a written resignation is also required). You must put your big kid pants on and summon up the courage to resign face-to-face.
What to say?
Keep it simple: “Karen, I want to let you know that I will be leaving Adam & Brown to join Cox & Smith. This was a very difficult decision to make. I’ve had a good experience here but I believe this is the right decision for me at this point in my career. I hope we can stay in touch.” Leave it at that.
You should be prepared for any reaction. Your boss may be supportive and collegial, cool and dismissive, skeptical, angry, or disinterested. Questions may range from “where are you going?” to “why are you leaving?” to “why didn’t you tell me you were unhappy?” Whatever the reaction, don’t take it personally. Be mindful that your boss has other matters to tend to besides your career plans.
Whatever you do, resist the urge to “send a message” with a proverbial mic drop. You can’t control your employer’s reaction, but you can control how you comport yourself. Don’t be petty or childish — keep things mature, professional, and courteous. Realize that you are likely to cross paths with these people again in the future. Passive-aggressive (or in some cases, just plain aggressive) actions may give you short-term satisfaction, but there’s a good chance you will regret them later. There is no upside to criticizing colleagues or the experience you’ve had. Take the high road and be complimentary — even if you don’t mean it.
What to do after you have given notice
Just as you should approach the resignation conversation professionally, you should behave in a professional manner during your notice period. Don’t gossip with colleagues who stop by for the blow by blow. Tell them you’d be pleased to stay in touch after you leave. Wind down, transition your matters, and move on.
Be sure to follow your firm’s guidelines on resignation and departure. Don’t be cute about files, forms, hard drive contents or anything else — it’s not worth the risk.
What if your firm tries to convince you to reconsider and makes you a counter-offer? How should you think through a potential decision to reverse course? We’ll talk about that in Part II of this series.
If you need help navigating this “unprecedented” (yes, I said it) lateral hiring market, please feel free to contact me or any of my Lateral Link colleagues.
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Zain Atassi is a Principal based in Chicago where she oversees attorney placements and client services throughout the Midwest. She recruits and places high-level attorneys with leading AmLaw firms, high-end boutiques, regional firms, and Fortune 500 companies. Her market intelligence and deep understanding of the Midwest market, along with her considerable connections with both firms and companies throughout the region, has allowed her to help numerous attorneys achieve their ultimate career goals. Zain holds a J.D. from Washington University School of Law and a B.A. with Honors from Washington University in St. Louis. Prior to recruiting, she spent six years as a litigation attorney with Chicago-based law firms. Zain resides on the Northshore of Chicago with her husband and two children, and she is fluent in Arabic.
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