In this installment of Things I Wish I Knew… solo attorney, Joleena Louis shares her advice on how to gracefully leave your current employment situation.
Everybody has advice about your career path. No one tells you the best way to resign from your job.
The best advice I can give for leaving your job is that there will never be a “right time” or a perfect set of circumstances. Pull the trigger.
I stayed 6 months too long because I kept creating irrational reasons why it was not the right time.
In reality, the right time was as soon as I had misgivings about my future at the firm. I was just afraid; Afraid of failing, afraid of leaving what was comfortable to me, and afraid of sitting across a desk from my boss and speaking the actual words. Most importantly, I was afraid to own my unhappiness.
Why I decided to resign: The last straw.
I never set out to become a solo lawyer. In fact, I was completely comfortable working for somebody else and getting a regular paycheck. The idea to go solo formed in much the same way I assume many ideas form in firm lawyers who end up going solo.
I was doing a majority of the firms work and I was not being compensated accordingly, in spite of almost daily promises to the contrary.
My firm did not seem to notice my heavy workload, but clients and adversaries did. They asked why I was doing all this work for someone else. They were right. I basically had the workload of a solo attorney, but my firm reaped the financial rewards.
The last straw came when I was formally denied a well-deserved raise. Immediately after informing me that “times were tight” and “everyone was making sacrifices,” they hired a new paralegal. Even worse, they paid her substantially more than the other office paralegals.
That hire made my mind up for me.
What Quitting Actually Felt Like.
Actually giving notice was bittersweet for me.
First and foremost, quitting is awkward. The way your heartbeat races as you sit across from your soon to be former employer is both invigorating and terrifying. Nervous is an understatement.
When we finally sat down and had the discussion there were tears and a lot of nervous talking. The firm tried to convince me to stay (but still didn’t offer a raise).
Advice on How to Quit:
My best advice is to script out what you want to say at least a week before you decide to quit. It will give you time to really think about reasons and choose the most appropriate and effective words. I didn’t and I found myself stammering a lot. I did not effectively communicate how I felt, so that maybe the firm could proactively change and a new associate would not be in the same position as I was.
Also, stay resolute in your decision. You walked through that door for a reason. Don’t let anything sway your resolve. Even if they offer a slight raise, do not take it. (I didn’t have that chance, because they never offered me a raise.)
I gave a one month’s notice under the assumption that I was going to help find and train my replacement. My advice: Never give more notice than is socially appropriate (two weeks, maximum). It was really awkward arriving at work for that month.
Not only was there was some resentment on their part, I resented myself every morning. I was just mentally over being there every day, when I really wanted to be working on my own practice. My work product and productivity reflected this resentment. It probably would have been better for both parties if I had left right after I had announced my departure.
Never burn bridges.
I also did my best to stay professional throughout the awkwardness. I took a previously scheduled vacation during that last month and that they did not pay me for even though I was entitled to it, and despite that I still came back to train the new person they hired.
Even if they were not going to do the right thing, I was still going to. It was important to me that no matter what happened, I kept my word. The family law community, along with every practice area community is small. Word travels fast and it is exceedingly hard to prepare a broken reputation.
In summary there is no best time to resign, and when you are ready to take that step do it in person, give adequate notice (but not too much), and be professional no matter what.
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Joleena Louis is a matrimonial and family law attorney at Joleena Louis Law, a ﬁrm she founded after leaving a boutique matrimonial ﬁrm in Brooklyn. Joleena is a client in Law Firm Suites’ start-up program in Downtown, New York. Her weekly blog series Things I Wish I Knew… explores her thought process and experiences in her transition from small law ﬁrm employee to successful solo practice entrepreneur.