January/February 2020

Practice Management Advice

The Minimal Risk in Rehiring a Former Associate

Heidi A. Barcus

What if the associate who left your firm a few years ago for another job called you today and asked if you would consider rehiring her? Would you? Almost every law firm leader at a recent roundtable I attended was adamant: No.

That response surprised me. I would sit down and talk to this lawyer without hesitation. The legal climate has changed. Gone are the days when a lawyer accepted a job out of law school and retired with that firm. While my firm does have a number of lawyers who have never worked anyplace else, including one who started as a runner and is now a partner, I don’t think we will ever see that career trajectory again. The profession is mobile now. Young lawyers switch jobs every few years until they find their place. In fact, law schools encourage graduates to explore the landscape and build their résumé. LinkedIn and professional organizations make job openings readily available, and lawyers can search for jobs without hiring partners knowing. The promises of more money and more autonomy are innumerable. Law firms should not take offense because a lawyer decided to try working at a different firm or in a different industry.

The biggest frustration lawyers experience when someone departs is the feeling that we have wasted time and energy training young lawyers to work for our competitors. Just when we get a young lawyer up and running, he or she leaves. This frustration is the driving force behind the quick rejection of any inquiry from a lawyer who has quit. Before saying “absolutely not” when that lawyer calls about returning to your firm, take a deep breath and set aside that frustration for a moment. Consider the following:

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