Colleen Torell of Keystone Partners gives tips for law firms to make the exit process easier.
When a law firm plans to transition a lawyer out it hopes, from both business and professional standpoints, that the lawyer lands a suitable new role as quickly as possible. Every lawyer that leaves may be a potential client or referral source so firms are, or should be, focused on making sure that they continue to value the lawyer during and after separation. There is goodwill flowing from the firm to its future alumni base, and the departing lawyer should perceive that goodwill far before his or her end date.
Many law firms invest in outplacement or career coaching once they decide to transition a lawyerout of the firm, providing independent, outside support while the lawyer continues his or her work. Consultants with expertise in legal career transition will guide leavers through core job search best practices but do so in limited, intense increments with little exposure to how he or she presents themselves - when outside of the sometimes emotional one-on-one conversation.
On the other hand, law firms generally provide extended periods of working notice, sometimes for several months, and can play an important partnering role in conditioning job seekers to put their best foot forward. This article provides best practices that sponsoring firms can adopt to bolster the impact of outplacement coaching and support in search strategy and execution.
Upon hearing the news that they have no future, many lawyers are understandably skeptical about how exactly the firm will be willing to support them in creating a future somewhere else. This is an opportunity for the firm to demonstrate what resources are available to assist. Whoever is managing the outplacement relationship should enlist a special team of one or more practitioners close to the departing lawyer's work and explain how they should take responsibility in supporting.
To be clear, encouraging team members to lend support is not enough; explain that you expect them to actually deliver support in the form of actionable feedback on resume content, crafting a goal- and level-appropriate elevator pitch, providing in-the-moment feedback on any aspect of areas that might bolster the impression they make in networking conversations and interviews.
While there is certainly the potential for difficult conversations, the alternative is that lawyers miss opportunities for hearing re-directive feedback that could enhance the way they are perceived by both firm members and prospective employers. Finally, the web of support should be offered throughout a continuing conversation. As time passes the lawyer's goals, motivation, mindset and confidence may shift and require a similar shift in support.
What does 'Let us know how we can help' really mean? Some lawyers have the confidence or natural inclination to act on the offer as intended. For the majority, however, I see several flavours of poor outcomes. In the best case scenario, lawyers interpret the vague offer of “help” as having a card up their sleeve to use at the very last minute to guarantee that an already “open door” may remain open in an interview process to clinch an offer; this delay in help means that some doors will never be knocked on with force to stand out from all other applicants.
These lawyers try to avoid over-asking for help. In the worst cases, lawyers assume that the offer to help is a polite but empty platitude and seek no assistance from anyone and, in the process, leave those in the Firm scratching their heads as to why the lawyer would be so short sighted.
All of these interpretations fall short, so firms should leave no room for interpretation. Instead, plan how you and your colleagues will define expectations:
•Who has the lawyer performed work for that will be a champion and mentor in the transition process? As mentioned, ideally the lawyer will have one or more clearly identified firm sponsor(s) throughout his or her job search for help in planning for brainstorming, navigating requests for networking assistance and serving as sounding board on messaging for an elevator pitch.
• Does the firm encourage the lawyer to feel comfortable approaching connections to colleagues’ clients or external law firm partners? PD’s or HR’s connections? What if a Firm relationship partner is not someone the lawyer has worked with directly? How will you help facilitate the conversation? What if circumstances dictate that the conversation cannot happen?
• Share job leads and ideas for networking directly with the lawyer and pressure test whether the suggestions are in line with what the lawyer wants so that everyone is on the same page.
• What non-lawyer and non-PD/HR resources should the lawyer tap into? Does the firm have a formal alumni network? Explain how to use it. Does the marketing or business development function maintain a CRM tool that memorialises relationships that lawyers can tap into?
Just as important as the support offered is the critical need for transparency on expectations; Firm leaders should agree on setting final expectations about billable work, and whether end dates are flexible or concrete. When lawyers hear one thing from PD and another from assigning partners or practice group leaders they end up disappointed, confused and ultimately feeling undervalued. Be clear and consistent so that everyone is singing from the same song sheet, and plan periodic check-ins to make sure that practice is meeting predetermined plans.
When running in parallel with the lawyer's private outplacement work, clear support from their champions within the firm provides the 360-degree help that transitioning lawyers need to work through their search and build their best next chapter.
Colleen Torell is vice president and senior consultant at Keystone Partners. She joined Keystone from the law firm of Choate, Hall & Stewart where she was Director of Legal Recruiting and Senior Manager of Professional Development.