Leaving your current law firm or legal department, like the lyrics to “So Long, Farewell” from “Sound of Music”, means bidding adieu to many people. Although you may wish to give notice only once and get it over with, you need to apprise all appropriate parties and in the right order. Meanwhile, keep any hint of your impending move off social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn until you have completed the notice process within your workplace.
Determining who must be the first know can be a delicate decision, and depends upon the dynamics of your particular organization. The firm or company may have a designated contact for resignations, such as the Managing Partner, General Counsel, or head of Human Resources. Check your employment or partnership agreement or the firm handbook for the formal procedure. If there is no mention of resignation protocol, seek the advice of a mentor or a trusted colleague with sufficient seniority to see several departures (and who will keep your confidence). Otherwise, ask HR to direct you to the appropriate person. Once you give your initial notice, ask for some lead time to allow you to break the news personally to others who need to know.
Your next goodbye should be to the supervising attorney(s) or executive(s) for whom you currently handle projects, and those you work with frequently. This also should include your practice group or team leader and the person who assigns your work. Meet with them one-on-one, if possible. Thank them for their guidance and mention, if you can, specific things you learned from each. Clarify your responsibility for any further work on particular matters and how to prepare the tasks for reassignment.
Once you begin the process of giving notice, you’ll find that news travels fast. You don’t want your assistant to hear it through the grapevine, so make it a priority to tell him or her personally early in the process. You’ll need your assistant’s help with wrapping up loose ends before your departure date.
Your close professional circle
Meet with other lawyer and non-lawyer colleagues with whom you have developed business friendships. Particularly thank your mentors for their valuable role in shaping your career and experience at the firm. Lay the groundwork for maintaining your professional relationships and bonds of friendship as you move forward. These are the people who may serve as references and business-referral sources in the future. Trade personal contact information and make sure you’re connected on social networks so you can stay in touch as your careers take you in new directions.
You don’t need to contact each and every attorney or executive in your firm or company personally regarding your impending move. As a matter of courtesy, however, you should contact those you work with on current projects. A phone call is fine. Assure them that you’re taking the appropriate steps to transition your matters so that they won’t be left in the lurch. Beyond your teammates, whether to notify other colleagues individually is up to you.
Non-attorney management and staff
Additionally, alert any paralegals, researchers, legal assistants, or other non-attorneys on your work teams of your upcoming departure, but you don’t necessarily have to meet with them in person. Although everyone in the organization eventually will learn about your exit, a gracious goodbye to those that matter requires the personal touch.
Everyone else in the organization
You or the HR department should send out an upbeat departure memo to everyone in the law firm or legal department (and any other relevant departments in a non-law firm environment), stating when you will be leaving and identifying your new employer. Keep it short and sweet, refraining from any negativity or snarkiness. Rather, say that you’ve enjoyed working with everyone and will value the experience you gained during your tenure there. Wish everyone well, and make a graceful exit.
The outside world
Once you have completed giving notice within your current work environment, you can share the news – in only positive terms - with the rest of the world. At that point, you can phone and email blast to your heart’s content, and don’t forget to update your status on the social networks.