How should you tell your training firm you are leaving? Who should you notify and when? We’re frequently asked these questions by NQs who have secured a new role on qualification and decided to leave.
Here’s a typical NQ scenario.
You’re about to qualify and have been offered a position as an associate at a firm other than your training firm. You want to accept.
Your training firm hasn’t yet notified you if they want to keep you on even though your qualification date is rapidly approaching. This has been a source of frustration for some months and has been a topic of endless discussion with your fellow trainees.
Part of you wants to tell your firm as soon as possible that you are leaving. But you feel guilty in a way, as if you are letting them down. You feel especially bad for one or two partners who have mentored you during your training contract.
Another part of you is annoyed that you are being taken for granted. If your existing firm has no qualms about waiting until the last minute to let you know, why should you not do the same to them?
Who should you tell, what should you say and when?
Before you do anything…
First of all, don’t say anything until you have a signed contract from your new firm. An offer is not enough, even if you have confirmed your acceptance. Sign on the dotted line before you do anything.
Also, if your training firm has paid your LPC fees or helped in another way towards your qualification, check that they are not entitled to claw money back if you leave upon qualification.
Now take a step back
You can do a lot worse at this stage than heed words of the famous Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius: “If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.”
In brief, do and say the right thing. Remember, you are at the start of a career that you hope will be long and rewarding. Your reputation counts for a lot in law and once lost can be difficult to regain.
In practical terms, this means acting with responsibility and dignity.
So, tell your training partner and HR face-to-face as soon as possible. Be honest about your reasons. If it’s because you were fed up waiting to hear if you were being kept on, tell them. If it is to go to a more prestigious firm or do different work, explain this.
Don’t be under the illusion you are letting anyone down. Law firms are hard-nosed and commercial. People come and go for all sorts of reasons. They may be sorry to lose you (or at least say they are) but in all honesty they probably have far bigger concerns to worry about.
Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you are somehow getting your own back by waiting until they tell you if you are being kept on before informing them that you are leaving. This does you no favours and isn’t fair on other trainees. It will come across as petty.
There’s a comment in a post on one of the legal news websites where the person commenting (named ‘Anon’, not surprisingly) recounts a tale of revenge from when they qualified. Anon explains how their training firm had a practice of not telling trainees if they were being kept on until after they qualified. Anon secured an NQ role before qualification and to give them a taste of their own medicine, didn’t notify the firm they were leaving. Anon simply failed to turn up for work the day they qualified on the basis that their contract had expired. Here’s the kicker though. Anon had arranged a mediation with a client in another city for the day they qualified. No one from the firm attended the mediation (which the client went ahead with anyway) and the client later sued the firm for negligence.
This may have made Anon feel good and is an excellent story, but at what cost? No doubt the firm was arrogant and unprofessional, but it reflects equally poorly on Anon. If it didn’t, they would not have been reticent to put their name to the comment rather than remain anonymous.
You should aim to keep on good terms with the firm and the people who work there as you never know what is around the corner. You may end up working with some of the same people again either because you later join the same firm or as a result of a merger. You might deal with them on the other side of a transaction, or they may become in house counsel for one of your clients. You could even end up going back to the firm later in your career.
In a nutshell, be diplomatic. And in being diplomatic, take heed of the wise words of Winston Churchill: “Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.”