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Lateral Gracefully: How to Leave Your Current Firm

Jan 31, 2024

Have you ever “ghosted” at a social gathering? You know, just left a party or a bar without telling anyone you were going to leave? This is sort of like deciding to make a lateral move as an associate attorney – you’re not going to tell anyone until you’ve decided to put in your notice. It’s a big deal to leave your current firm, and there are some steps you should absolutely take to ensure a graceful exit.


Before giving notice, you should:


  • Gather all personal items and take them home, including putting any writing samples and personal documents you want to keep on a jump drive – as long as you abide by your firm’s confidentiality and computer policies.

  • Craft a professional and appreciative letter of resignation giving two weeks’ notice. Anything more than two weeks may cause awkward situations including tricking you into accepting counter offers which, statistically speaking, will ultimately not work out with your current firm.

  • Create a list of all the matters you’ve worked on at the firm, including the clients. This will become important for later conflicts checks with your new firm and when you are wrapping up transactions.

  • Be prepared to walk out and never return just in case you’re asked to leave immediately after notice is given.

  • Put yourself in your supervisor’s shoes – what would you want to hear from a departing employee?


After you’ve handed in your notice — in person, it's time to finish the drill:


  • Create another list of daily and weekly tasks and plan to meet with your supervisor to discuss how to properly transition in the way that works best for the practice group.

  • Do your best to wrap up all of your work and give a proper handoff to the designated associate or partner.

  • Leave on a high note and reach out personally to your close contacts at your firm. Make sure you are thankful and gracious to your entire team from partners to associates to admins.


Now you’ve started the new job…you’re not done yet!


  • Be early on your first day and dress professionally for the occasion, you’re making a first impression!

  • Update your State Bar information.

  • Do not assume anything — proactively ask questions and do not hesitate to introduce yourself.

  • Make sure you seek out each person you interviewed with on your first day to at least say hello.



Follow all these steps, and you’ll be able to have a graceful exit from your current employer and start your new job on the right foot. If you want more information, check your local and State Bar websites to see what professional responsibility rules there are for transitioning from legal jobs in your City/State.


If you’re interested in changing jobs, check out some top-level legal jobs available now.