Confessions of a General Counsel:  Getting Fired

You are going to lose your job.

Maybe it's intuition. Or maybe your manager has already delivered the news to you. Maybe you've been on a performance plan so you were aware of the risks. Or maybe the news interrupted an otherwise normal day.

What should you do?  How should you act?  Keep these tips in mind as you make the adjustment.

1. Your first step:  check your cash. In reality you should have initiated this step when you were a new employee. While money is not the answer to every problem, the lack of enough of it to cover your basic expenses can feed a crisis and limit options. There are many different strategies to build your nest egg. Develop a plan that works for you based on your resources, your obligations, your dreams. Follow it and then evaluate it. Change it every so often as your goals or circumstances change.

2. Your second step:  find perspective. Getting fired may feel like the end of the world, but it isn't. It is simply the end of a period of employment with a specific employer. Throughout your career, you are going to start and end employment at many different companies depending on what opportunities are the right fit for you at any given time. Sometimes you will choose to leave and sometimes your employer will make that decision. If you need a little evidence that you can grab goodness after losing your job, run an Internet search using these key words:  "fired" and "famous".

3. Your third step:  don't spew toxins. If the decision has been made, your new priority is to facilitate as positive an exit as possible. Do not trash talk your boss, your colleagues, your projects or the company. Do not recount conversations or events in blog posts. It is not a battle; it is a career change. If you decide that it is important to give constructive criticism, make sure that in the moment you will be able to recognize difference between trash talk and constructive criticism.  A law school professor once advised us to make it easy for the person saying no today to say yes tomorrow. It is easy to go super negative, but doing so will make it difficult for the people who witness your behavior to recruit you or recommend you in the future.

5. Your fourth step:  take care of business. It is okay to hire a lawyer to help you read and understand the documents that you will need to sign. A lawyer, who helps clients separate from companies, will also know the separation terms that are standard for your market and may even negotiate on your behalf. Pay attention to health insurance.  If you are signing a release in exchange for severance benefits, understand your obligations as well as those of your employer.  

6. Your fifth step:  walk out with clean hands, leave a dirty desk.  This saying comes from a time when we used Rolodexes and desks instead of contacts and desktops but the concept is the same in the digital age. The company owns client lists, templates, presentations, files and reports. Do not take them. Leave your work behind so that your successors can find what they will need.

7. Your last step:  smell the roses.  On any given day happy people walk the streets during "working hours".  You now get to experience off-peak times at the gym, a leisurely cup of tea, a guilt-free afternoon movie.  You also have some time to think about the challenges and triumphs of your past employment, and consider what opportunities you want to pursue.  Call someone in your network and invite them to meet you at a local coffee shop. 

Are you ready if you get fired? 


Delida Costin is the former general counsel of Pandora Media and  She is also a proud alumna of Boston University School of Law. She often speaks about leadership, legal practice and diversity.  

Learn more about Delida on her website:

Follow her on Twitter: @delidacostin



I absolutely LOVE this article. Unfortunately, this happens to many new lawyers within their first few years of practice. I think you make excellent points about maintaining your confidence and cool during this time. Don’t dwell on it. Everything happens for a reason. Great tips Delida!


Hi everyone,  I just read this great article about Sree Sreenivasan and how he handled an involuntary ouster.  Great reading!!

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