Attorneys Who Quit Become Prospects

November 20, 2023

A 2022 Leopard Solutions report shows — unsurprisingly — that women lawyers continue to leave Big Law for in-house jobs or positions with smaller firms. The reasons why are familiar: Essentially, the pressure at the largest firms to maximize billable hours incentivizes a type of work (crisis focused) and approach to work (reactive instead of proactive) that lead to unpredictable schedules and unsustainable demands. Firms that have failed to address these problems in their business model are losing valuable talent. We’ve heard this story before.

But one thing we haven’t heard enough people talking about is how this exodus of talented women creates a secondary challenge for the lawyers who remain at the firm. Partners who were once their (dissatisfied) colleagues have suddenly become prospects and referral sources. In other words, what started as an HR problem now requires the attention of the business development team.

The ideal solution to this problem of course would be preventing it from happening in the first place, but last we checked law firm BD professionals do not have access to a time machine. So what can they do to maintain a positive relationship with firm defectors?

Don’t ghost. Make plans to reach out in a meaningful way before six months have passed. People leave jobs all the time, for all kinds of reasons, and the proper response is to assume a positive intent moving forward, whatever the office scuttlebutt, and send the lawyer off with the firm’s best wishes. Stay in touch at their new contact information. Send a friendly congratulations email, or a small gift like flowers or a bottle of wine.

Build goodwill. Showing public support for the attorney’s new projects, team and company may help move the relationship past any remaining unpleasantness and demonstrate how both parties can help each other as contacts. Something as simple as engaging on LinkedIn or showing up to an event could create positive feelings. BD folks also might think about how to broker vendor relationships, put the former partner up for a GC award or do some limited project work gratis to restore a connection. The point is, find a gesture that will be valuable and meaningful.

Formalize a robust alumni network. Your firm will be one stop on the path for many lawyers — that’s just how the industry works. The multidirectional connections among current and past lawyers — as well as your firm’s future employees — are important and also unpredictable. It’s worth investing time in events, in-person, virtual and asynchronous, that create opportunities for continued connection. Not every one of those touchpoints will immediately benefit your firm, but investing in the network will eventually pay off in developing new business and shoring up relationships with current clients.