Deciding to leave your law firm to another firm is a major career decision that generally is not made lightly. In fact, it is one that often is deliberated and carefully considered over a period of many months. Especially for long-time partners, when the moment comes that a partner decides to hand in his or her resignation, the conversation does not always end with a “thank you and good luck.”
Often, the current firm will do everything in its power to get that partner to stay, making appealing promises in an attempt to change the partner’s mind. How should you react to that scenario?
The days immediately following resignation are often shrouded in emotion and second-guessing. You probably are no longer on the dispassionate “solid ground” that you were on before you resigned and started having intense emotional conversations with other partners and management at your current firm. Now, in this difficult state, you may be asking yourself whether you should really stick with your earlier dispassionate decision to move on—which you previously felt was the best thing for you and your family—or to yield to the substantial pressure you are feeling to reverse course and stay where you are.
Reasons to Resist
This is always the most difficult time in the process for a partner who makes a move, but my experience shows that it is important to trust your earlier careful process and analysis for a few reasons.
First, it is very dangerous to let a few days or weeks of pressure-filled discussions and promises trump the deliberate and thoughtful months-long process of evaluation that you conducted before making your decision to leave your current firm and join a new one. The risk of making a mistake in judgment under the pressure and emotions of the moment (even if that “moment” extends for
days or weeks) is significant. You also risk losing all of the goodwill and opportunity you see for yourself at the new firm over the next many years.
Second, no promises that your current firm makes now can be trusted as sincere, even if made with good intentions in the present moment. If there are things that the firm is only willing to address now, why have those things not been done previously? What conviction can you have that the firm will not change its mind again later, or put your concerns aside to focus on other priorities, once you are back in the fold and your other option is gone? Firms do not like making changes or concessions with a gun to their head and, even if management seems willing or eager to do so now, you can be sure that they will remember and later resent (consciously or subconsciously) that they were put in this position and felt forced to do things they otherwise were not intending to do.
Third, now that you have made and communicated a decision to leave, your relationship with the firm can never be the same. They will always be aware that you were willing to leave, and your loyalty will never again be fully trusted. Empirically, our company’s experience is that the vast majority of partners who give in to pressure after resigning and decide to stay end up regretting it over the medium term, realize that the things that triggered their decision to leave in the first place have not fundamentally changed, and are gone within another 12−18 months anyway but often have lost out by that time on the compelling opportunity that was their initial and most attractive alternative.
Ultimately, you need to do the right thing for your career, and those at your current firm who are truly your friends now will remain your friends going forward and will understand if you decide to move on and pursue a different path. Sometimes a change in scenery, with new challenges and opportunities, is what is needed in one’s career to take it to the next level.
Moment of Clarity
Remember that over the preceding several months, when your head was relatively clear and you were thinking objectively, you reached the conclusion that you needed to make a move away from things that you saw made it challenging for you to continue practicing at your current firm, and toward an opportunity that you found more exciting and compelling after much thoughtful deliberation.
Take some quiet time and write down all the factors you have carefully considered in arriving at your decision to leave your current firm and all the positives and opportunities you see for yourself at the new firm. This thoughtful reflection should help you refocus on why you made your decision in the first place. If you stay committed to what you have already concluded is the best course for
you, experience shows that you are likely to be much happier in the long run.
This article was originally featured in Of Counsel, June 2018.
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Robert J. Brigham is a Partner in the San Francisco and Palo Alto offices and a member of the firm's Partner Practice Group. Bob's many years as a partner in a general practice firm in the Bay Area give him a deep understanding of the practices that are important to clients in this market and provide a valuable perspective when advising law firm clients on lateral partner searches or advising potential candidates on lateral opportunities. He particularly enjoys counseling law firm partners on career issues, including helping partners to understand the rapidly evolving Northern California law firm market and providing confidential and objective representation if and when they decide to explore moving firms.