Every story about law firms who lost someone to the words ‘I quit’ centered not on the question of why the quitter quit, but on the behavior of the person departing; the so-called ‘how they left’ issue. Typically, the offending lawyer has done little more than try to cover their ass on the way out the door. That means calling on rental space, telling other attorneys and contacting clients. It is the first question I find myself addressing as I get closer to giving my firm notice.
I can appreciate why many lawyers want more certainty about where they are going to land before they jump out of the plane. This usually involves looking for shared office space or your own rental space. Do you tell other members of the local bar under illusion of confidentiality or other potential resources that you are leaving before telling your law firm?
I have to laugh at the thought that just popped into my head, “What would the Greatest American Lawyer (“GAL”) do?”
I have had numerous employment cases dealing with issues of unfair competition, breach of fiduciary duty and customer lists. Many lawyers and some judges laugh off the actionable conduct simply because they have seen so many lawyers leave law firms in the middle of the night, taking files with them. The clients have already signed letters to leave with the quitting lawyer before notice is given to the firm. If lawyers do it, then how can it be unlawful? [more laughs from the balcony please].
The pressure to launch a sneak attack in order to leave yourself a more predictable landing and, of course, increase the odds of ‘success’ are significant. The prospect of loosing your house, the impact on your family of financial stress and the ego gratification of beating your former co-lawyers - now perceived competitors - has defined many law firm start-ups.
A law firm built on such a foundation is destined end up looking like any other law firm. Such an approach, although not uncommon, would hardly be ‘changing the way law is practiced. ‘
I decided long ago to tell my firm first (except immediate family of course) and thereafter others. I have always believed that there is a right way to leave a firm. The GAL would compete fairly and honestly with all involved. He would not let others govern his decisions, or impact his behavior. The GAL would understand that the means are as important as the end. I have decided to follow his lead.
Because of my choice to tell my law firm first, I have lists of completely unaddressed practical issues. I do need office space. I do need to identify a bookkeeper, tax accountant, malpractice insurance, less expensive health insurance and on. I am feeling the desire to give notice, if for no other reason, than to identify options and resources.
At the end of the day, I understand that these first steps are very important for me since they will set the path and direction of my new practice. I take them very carefully and very deliberately. We will see if it lands me a TV sit-com or a viable law practice.
Stay tuned …..