Most associates don’t leave their firms because they absolutely hate it and want to burn it all down. Most are just looking for a different partner to work with, are interested in pivoting slightly (or more than slightly) in the work that they do, are seeking a better platform to build their own book or are moving geographically. In fact, associates are (or should be!) generally keen to maintain a positive relationship through their notice period and beyond. So how do you do that?
1) Give the required amount of notice at a minimum. Many associates, especially more senior ones, kindly offer more than what they’re contractually required. It’s not always accepted/required, but making this offer is a tangible act of goodwill.
2) Don’t compare/contrast your current firm to your new one to the partners. Nobody wants to hear it! Some associates over-explain their moves; this doesn’t benefit anyone. Keep it simple: “I’ve made the decision to leave. I am so grateful for everything I’ve learned here, and specifically for what you’ve taught me. How can I make this transition as easy as possible?”
3) Let the firm tell you how to inform clients about your departure. This is a place where initiative is not particularly welcome. Especially if you’re quite junior, this is not your announcement to make.
4) Don’t mentally check out during your notice period. Use this time to leave the best possible memory of your tenure. Leave memos and robust notes for your successor and make sure that other associates taking your spot on deals/cases are up to speed. This is not the time to phone it in. Keep in mind that the notice period in other countries is up to THREE MONTHS. Spending two weeks staying on your best behavior won’t feel like much of an imposition in that context!
5) Don’t burn your bridges. Remember: It’s a long life in a reasonably small legal community, and you may find yourself either across the table from these partners or alongside them at another firm.
The time between resignation and departure can feel somewhat throw-away, but I assure you that firms take it as the true marker of who you are. Don’t give them any reason to feel anything other than wistful about your move.