This year, as the Great Resignation takes its toll on law firms, the volume of departures has been especially high. But for lawyers who haven’t been through it before, the process of resigning can be daunting. At Lateral Link, we routinely advise candidates on their resignation timing and process, so we think now is an opportune time to share that knowledge more broadly.
On Tuesday, in Part I of this two-part series, we discussed how to resign properly, while managing the emotions that the resignation decision may trigger. Today, our topic is counter-offers and the promises that accompany them. What should you do if your employer responds to your resignation announcement with a seemingly attractive offer to stay at your current firm?
The logic of counter-offers
Employee turnover is expensive. Searching for a replacement and training the new hire to succeed in the role are both costly. In the interim, the firm may have to turn away work due to being short-staffed (or in most cases, push it on their current associates, causing severe burn out). Change is also risky: whereas a new employee has no easily observable track record, the employer knows the capabilities of its current staff.
These factors are doubly significant in a robust lateral market like the one we’re in now. Replacing you will not be easy, and it will probably take a long time. With that context, it’s no surprise that your employer would seek to talk you out of resigning. Pushback often comes in the form of questions like, “Can’t we persuade you to stay?” or “Can you think this over for a few days?”
The emotional appeal of a request to stay
Assuming you don’t hate your current job, an appeal to change your mind might cause you to think twice. We tend to view loyalty as an honorable quality, and it’s always nice to know that you’re wanted. Even on this dimension, however, it’s important to recognize that the consequences of declaring your intention to leave will linger. Once you announce your resignation, trust between you and your employer is broken. If you stay, your employer and co-workers may focus less on the sacrifice you’ve made in declining the new opportunity and more on the “lack of loyalty” you showed in submitting your resignation.
It’s also important to balance feeling flattered by the gesture of a counter-offer against the reality that it was only prompted by your threat to leave. If you were seen as such a valuable member of the team, why didn’t your employer proactively offer you better terms to remove the incentive to look elsewhere? If your employer is willing to offer a compensation increase or a promotion only after you announce your resignation, then the firm has been knowingly underpaying and undervaluing you, which demonstrates a clear lack of appreciation for your contributions.
If you’ve thought the process through, chances are you would’ve already addressed your grievances with your current employer and for whatever reason, your employer failed to deliver. The fact that you decided to resign is a clear indication that you aren’t fully happy in your current role. True, a counter-offer could bring an attractive pay increase. But the work conditions that prompted your job search in the first place — poor partnership prospects, long hours, toxic culture, insufficient access to interesting work, and so forth — are unlikely to permanently change if you stay. You are an intelligent adult. You made your decision for a reason. The wisest course is to trust yourself.
Consider your future prospects
When you accept a counter-offer, it buys time for your employer to find your replacement. Sure, it’s possible the firm will let bygones be bygones and allow you to resume your prior career trajectory. But, with your loyalty now in question, it’s probable that your employer will look out for candidates to replace you and may terminate you once a suitable replacement is found. Even if your employer is not in a rush to get rid of you, the aborted resignation and residual doubt it creates are likely to factor in future promotion or lay-off decisions.
Don’t set yourself up for regret
Most employees who display momentary weakness and withdraw their resignation in the face of a counter-offer realize quickly that they have made a mistake. Promises made to keep them often turn out to be empty ones — a firm’s culture doesn’t change overnight. Worse, when a candidate realizes she should have followed through on her decision to leave, she may find that the firm she intended to join has filled its vacancies and moved on. Don’t let that happen to you.
A new year oftentimes means a new job for many people. 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. In the meantime, here’s wishing that 2022 brings you new happiness, new goals, and new achievements. Cheers to the New Year!
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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