Susan Smith Blakely

When To Go and When To Stay—-The Important Considerations

Being at a law firm is not always easy, but leaving one can be even trickier.  It is kind of like that old adage that marriage is easy compared to divorce.  There are lots of things to consider when you disengage.

In the current merger and acquisition activity among law firms, many of you may find yourself needing the kind of advice that is offered by Grover Cleveland, author of Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks, in a recent blog on Above the Law.  (No, Grover does not represent the second coming of a former US President.  Rather, he is a very thoughtful and lovely man, who I have had the pleasure of meeting and who enthusiastically supports the mission of BFAB.)

Take a look at Grover's sage advice in response to a question posed about leaving your law firm for an opportunity at another firm.  This is precisely the question that I was asked recently by a young woman lawyer who I have been mentoring for years.  I am happy to say that Grover and I are very much on the same wavelength in our responses.

File the advice away for a rainy day when you may need it —— or when your friend or colleague may need it.  Quite likely, one of you will and sooner than you think.

Here are examples of the issues addressed:

•    Are your primary mentors staying or leaving?

•    What reasons did the partners give for leaving?

•    Do those reasons make sense to you and are they relevant to you?

•    How much work do you do for the partners who are leaving?

•    Will all of that work follow the partners?

•    Is it work you enjoy?

•    What do you know about the experience of associates at the new firm?

•    What is the reputation of the new firm?

•    Is your practice group a key practice area at your current firm? At the new firm?

•    How much work will remain in your practice area at your current firm after the partners leave?

•    Will there be enough work left to keep you busy if you stay at your current firm and will it be work that is interesting to you?

•    Will your compensation change if you join the new practice?

Grover also stresses discretion as part of his advice, and I cannot agree more.  Do not disparage anyone in the process of disengaging.  It is a small profession, and there is no need to burn bridges.  What you say and what you do will be remembered by someone for a long time.  Keep your options open by keeping your mouth firmly sealed when it comes to negative comments.  You will be happy that you did.

For more on these points, see "Make a Graceful Exit" in Chapter 4 of my first book, Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009).

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Her new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, will focus on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and will be released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has spoken at the US Department of Justice.  She has been featured in media including the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" for her work on behalf of women in the law.

Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com. 

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