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A blog with tips and insights into the practice of law

How to give notice – a Lawyers survival guide

Giving notice to your Partner, Director or GC can be a daunting and terrifying task but done professionally, quickly and confidently can result in turning what could be a complex and stressful situation into a positive one. Past bosses can make excellent contacts and future referees.

Nerves are normal, whether you have been working for that employer for 3 months or 20 years. Some common situations;

  • The partner who is impossible to get in front of; we have seen offers lost and candidates get very anxious when they can’t get in front of their supervisor to personally give notice. If you’ve tried to get in front of your supervisor for 24 hours without success, an “urgent” email or voicemail asking for a meeting ASAP might do the trick. If you have hit the 48 hour mark without success, and your supervisor is interstate/ overseas or in back to back court or other commitments, giving notice by phone may be the only solution. We have seen candidates resort to giving notice to their HR Manager’s as well if they can’t get hold of the partner. Whilst less personal, it does the trick. A carefully crafted email to the partner, advising of the act usually mends the lack of personal approach.
  • If you are able to quickly get an audience with your supervisor, get to the point quickly and succinctly. Say something like “David, I really appreciate the opportunities you’ve given me here at XYZ firm. I have accepted a new position and need to give you notice.” Say no more and no less. Allow your supervisor to respond and ask questions.
  • Whilst you don’t have to advise your supervisor where you are going, in the interest of having an ongoing relationship with him/her particularly where you either (a) need a reference now or in the future or (b) have a good relationship with them and would like to keep them as some form of mentor to you, then disclosing where you are going is a good idea. If you work in a niche market and are likely going to a direct competitor, providing that information might make the situation heated. Try to gage the likely response and be prepared to either provide the information or not depending on what you decide BEFORE going into the meeting.
  • If your boss starts talking about a counter offer, and every good candidate should expect this- react swiftly and decline politely. Apart from the fact that you are usually contractually bound to another firm/company, the statistics for people who accept counter-offers suggest that they typically end up leaving within 6 months anyway. You will always be viewed differently by your current employer and without any doubt will have burned a bridge with the firm or company you reject to accept the counter offer. Stay firm and polite and say something like “I am really grateful and flattered by your efforts to keep me, but I’ve made a commitment and really need to keep it.” The extra money usually thrown your way is not worth the overall angst and damage to reputation.
  • If your boss gets personal and wants to delve into the why’s and wherefore’s and starts speaking of being let down and your disloyalty, again keep things short and sweet, be gracious about your time with him/her and the firm, and politely explain that you don’t think a discussion along these lines can be productive.
  • Lastly, make sure you commit to your (usually) 4 weeks’ notice period and explain that you will work very hard to ensure that you leave your files and work in great order. Don’t succumb into giving more than 4 weeks’ notice out of guilt/because you have a matter to finish/because someone else will be on holiday etc. Your future boss won’t wait for you, and it shows a lack of commitment to your new role.

Giving notice can be intimidating, especially if being done for the first time, but being prepared and knowing the pitfalls can make it much less stressful.