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A prospective employer offers you a new job. You accept on the spot. But as you put down the phone, you think to yourself: “What next? Do I just walk out the door of my old firm?” There’s more to leaving a position at a law firm than simply walking out. This article outlines a few practices to keep in mind while in the process of leaving and starting a new job. Begin by considering your goals in transition. In rough terms, your goal should be to make the transition between jobs as smooth and efficient as possible. But there is more. The legal profession operates on relationships. You should strive to maintain good relations with your old firm, and develop good relations at your new position. If you can demonstrate maturity, good judgment, integrity and grace throughout the process, your reputation in both places should be improved. How can you maintain good relations with the firm you are leaving? Consider a few basic issues. Begin by crafting the message regarding your departure very carefully, and think about how you plan to deliver it. The message can be minimalist (such as “new opportunities”), but it should be framed as positively as possible. Any message that smacks of resentment (such as “the training here is terrible”), while perhaps satisfying at the moment, is bound to leave a negative impression. Delivery of the message is also important. You should make sure that any senior managers at the firm who need to be alerted of your planned departure are informed promptly, preferably in person. As soon as you are resolved on your plans, make appointments to see them. If you feel comfortable doing so, walk immediately to your most senior manager’s office, and ask to speak about a “personal” matter. Close the door behind you when you are admitted. Explain your plans in brief, positive terms, and ask your manager for advice on how best to handle the transition (including who else needs to be informed of your decision). The point is to show respect, discretion and tact. Senior lawyers do not like being snubbed as the “last to know” about your plans. They prefer to have some control over such important processes as the change of personnel. Beyond this initial disclosure, carefully consider who else needs to be informed of your departure. Certainly your colleagues on any practice teams should be informed, so that they can make plans to replace you, if necessary. Administrative personnel who make arrangements for your final salary payments, the closing of your personnel files and other such things, should also be alerted well in advance of your departure. Beyond that core group, however, you need not, and almost certainly should not, trumpet your departure to the rest of the firm. If asked, you can deliver a short, positive message, but crowing about a great new job or (worse) complaining about your current job will inevitably leave a negative last impression at the firm. Besides these general suggestions for initiating the transition, keep in mind the following “don’ts:” Don’t take firm property without permission. That includes intellectual property, such as internal memoranda and forms. If you have any questions as to what is improper, check with a manager. Don’t abuse your benefits. Taking a series of last-minute CLE courses on the firm’s dime, or ordering your secretary to send out announcements of your departure to your list of business contacts; these and many other forms of abuse of benefits are bound to be discovered, and resented, by your old employer. Don’t abuse your colleagues. Give adequate notice of your departure. Put your files in order. Work hard to complete work in progress, and to train your replacements, if necessary. Leaving projects undone, or (worse) failing to tell your colleagues the status of undone projects and upcoming deadlines is guaranteed to breed resentment. Don’t send “flamer” messages. No matter the temptation to tell off your boss, or a hated rival, restrain yourself. These things persist (indeed, there is grave danger that such a message will be circulated by your antagonists, to show you as immature and petty). Even flowery, overly-sentimental “farewell” messages may be misinterpreted. Keep all your final written messages short and polite. Don’t wait until your last day to say goodbye. If you have mentors and other sponsors at the firm with whom you wish to maintain continuing relationships, seek them out, well before you leave. Let them know of your good feelings for them, and of your desire to stay in contact. A last-minute email to the office does not suffice. A few words about behavior after you take your new position. Do not spend inordinate amounts of time ruminating on your old job, or (worse) telling your new colleagues about all the things you did not like. But do not abandon all connections to your old firm. You never know when you will encounter one of your old colleagues and supervisors. Include your old mentors on your business contacts lists, and feel free to send them occasional holiday cards and invitations to events. If you are so inclined, stop back at your old firm on occasion, perhaps for lunch with some of your former colleagues. Go to reunions and other events that will allow you to maintain contacts. Professional life is not compartmentalized. In most professional communities, there is a distinct sense of “six degrees of separation.” As you journey from one job to another, you will find that the “who do you know” game is very much a part of professional conversations. On leaving a job, then, your ultimate aim is to make sure that when people speak of you, they do so with praise and high regard, even if they no longer work with you. The author is a partner in the New York City offices of Jones Day, and a member of the firm’s Training Committee. His publications include: The Path to Partnership: A Guide For Junior Associates (Praeger 2004). The views expressed are solely those of the author, and should not be attributed to the author’s firm or its clients.

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