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What To Do After Losing a Law Firm Job

published May 06, 2022

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Losing a job is something almost every attorney goes through at least once in their legal career. It can feel terrible and like the end of the world when it happens. However, there is no use in crying about it or feeling hurt once it happens. Instead, you have to do everything to put yourself in the best possible position and take certain steps that will get you there.

The Reality of Losing a Job as an Attorney


There are many different reasons why attorneys lose their jobs. Some get fired because of their actions, such as poor performance, not billing enough hours, getting into conflict with the wrong people, or negatively influencing others with their bad attitude. Others lose their job not because of what they have done but because of outside forces, such as the law firm's situation, the state of the economy, or the firm politics.

It is not a complete surprise for most attorneys who lose their law firm job. Usually, the law firm gives certain cues to the attorney that their performance is not as expected or that there is not enough work for them. However, it can still be devastating for them.

Getting fired often makes attorneys feel extremely shameful and like their life or career have ended. It is not that serious; however, it can be very hard to get a new position in law firms of the same rank, and many attorneys feel like a failure afterward. Losing a job also comes with inevitable financial pressures that further stress. And even if the attorney has enough savings to get them by, the hurt of being fired from a firm in which they have invested years of their life can be overwhelming.

All of these feelings of shame and failure are valid, and if you feel like they are getting over your head, there are many professionals, like psychologists or financial advisors, who can help you deal with them. However, there are many things you can (and should do) to put yourself in a better position for your job search to get a job as quickly as possible after this negative event. As a legal recruiter and the founder of BCG Attorney Search, this is something I can help you with. The following are my top tips on what to do immediately after getting fired to protect your future in the legal industry and get employed in other law firms.

Finding Out You Are Getting Fired From Your Law Firm

The Importance of Leaving on Good Terms


As I already mentioned, you will probably know about the possibility of being fired well before getting fired. Performance reviews or talks around the legal department will give it away. However, even if you have no idea that you are about to lose your job, you should not get angry and make a scene when your superior in your legal job sits you down and tells you the bad news. The law firm has already made its decision, and your arguments will not have the effect you want them to have. And even if you were able to convince the firm that they should not fire you at that moment, there is little chance that anything will change afterward, so you will probably find yourself in the same situation a month or two later.

However, the most important reason for not making a scene is that if you want to be successful in finding a new job, you need to be on the good side of your previous employer to get a positive recommendation. In most cases, they are firing you for a good reason, so it is important to be attentive and use this to improve your next law firm or do things better next time. And even if you do not agree with the reasons for losing your job, it is always better to let the other side say their peace and not counterattack to keep it cordial with them. It will help you get the recommendation you need and ease the whole process. Losing a job can be much more stressful if the sides want to hurt each other.

Should You Sue?

Some attorneys, especially more senior ones who have invested years into their law firms, think of suing their firms after they have lost their jobs. They believe that the reasons for which they were fired are not valid, and they want the courts to agree that the termination was wrongful. Something like that never ends well.

Most of the time, the termination is not wrongful, and the attorney will lose. Firms are full of lawyers, so they know they have to have a valid reason with proof when they fire someone. They will have documents proving that the termination is valid, and the court will have no other choice than to rule in their favor. And even if you were in the minority and the termination was wrongful, no law firm will want to hire you in the future because they will be afraid you will sue them. Lawsuits also create gossip among your peers, so suing is never good.

Know What Is Negotiable


As a lawyer, you should never sign anything without knowing all the facts. Some things are not negotiable whenever someone loses their job, and some are. So before you sign any non-disparagement agreement, find out what you can negotiate in terms of severance pay or time left in the firm. If the firm is letting many attorneys go, there probably will not be much to discuss; however, if it is only you, you might be able to gain something from this.

Talking Publicly About This Around the Firm Is Not a Good Idea


Although you might feel the urge to go around and announce what has happened to you and complain about the firm, do not do it. It is always best to stay quiet about things like this, even in front of people in your firm you consider friends. Gossip travels fast around law firms, and it can hurt your reputation as a talented and skilled attorney if everyone starts adding to the story of why you have been fired. If you need moral support, get it from your closest family or a professional rather than your professional friends in your or another law firm.

Generally, attorneys in law firms do not talk negatively about their previous colleagues because it does not make them look good. However, if you give them a reason to by making a scene or complain about being let go, they might want to warn others before you.

Securing Enough Time For Job Search


I say this all the time and to all our clients, but it is much easier to find a new position if you are still employed in a law firm instead of being out of a job. You are not currently employed automatically raises questions about your employability and the quality of your work. Hence, you always want to negotiate to stay with the firm as long as possible to have enough time to find your new placement.

Larger law firms will generally be able to keep you on for longer than small firms because they have more funds to keep on more lawyers. The time firms give their lawyers to find new jobs can be anything from a month to six months; however, it can also happen that the firm will want you to leave that day.

Regardless of what is customary in your law firm for the length of time an attorney can stay, you want to (and usually can) negotiate to last as long as possible. It takes several months to find a decent position in a large law firm, so you want to prolong the time at your current firm as much as possible. Some things in your background make it easier or harder for you to find a new position, and you have to take these into account when considering your situation.

If you have too little experience or have been in the law firm for more than six years, you will need more time to find a new position. The same applies if the economy is not doing that well (unless you are in litigation), your legal market is currently in a lull, you have changed firms several times in the few previous years, or your practice area is so narrow that there are usually no new opportunities often. On the other hand, it will be much easier to get a job even with some less desirable things in your past if you have enough transferrable business.

Apart from negotiating how long you can stay with the firm before they finally let you go, you also have to negotiate how long you will stay on the law firm's website and how long you can use its voicemail after your last day. Because even if you do not work for the firm anymore, being on their website or using their voicemail can make it seem like you are still there, and it can help you avoid a few unpleasant questions. This period can be prolonged if you approach the law firm's management and explain your situation, so you should take advantage of that.

Applying to Law Firms Quickly Is Essential


Regardless of whether you are still employed in your previous law firm or already have an unemployed status, you want to shrink the time you are out of a job as much as possible. That means acting quickly and being proactive when applying to law firms.

Firstly, it is vital to apply to as many law firms and employers in the legal community as possible. When you need to find a position quickly, there is no time to pick and choose law firms that fit your specific expectations or only apply to places with job openings. Most law firms will hire anyone who will be able to earn them money, and it does not matter whether they have an open position or not. It is not enough to rely on job boards because those only publish open positions. The easiest thing to do is to build a list of all legal employers who might be interested in an attorney in your practice area and contact them directly with your resume.

Another important thing is to not focus your job searches only on your current legal market but to apply in as many legal markets as possible. Your chances of getting hired grow exponentially with every additional legal market you apply to. It can be easier to get a position in a market different from your current one because relocating is a valid and understandable reason for switching firms. Changing firms within your market can raise many questions.

Of course, it is not logical to apply to just any legal market. Having a personal connection to the market helps a lot. You should apply to the market where you have grown up or where your parents reside, the market where your significant other is from, where you went to law school, or where you have other personal connections.

These steps need to be taken immediately after finding out about the lost job because only that will ensure that you can practice law without too big of a gap on your resume. And job search is much more difficult when you are already out of your job because human resources departments get immediately suspicious about unemployed attorneys. Do not hesitate to also ask around your professional networks. You might know multiple attorneys whose firms are looking for someone.

How To Answer the Question "Why"?

When you are looking for a new position after losing your previous job, you will inevitably be asked why you have lost it unless you can get a job offer while still working or are at least public on the previous law firm's website. You want to paint yourself in the best light possible, so the best reason you can provide is one where you are not in the wrong.

The Law Firm Did Not Have Enough Work/Enough Work the Attorney Wants


This happens in many firms. When a powerful partner leaves their business, it can affect the whole firm. Smaller firms or those with one big client can suffer when the biggest case settles or when the big client leaves. Other times the state of the economy can influence how much work there is for attorneys.

If anything like this has happened in your firm, you can use it to excuse why you were let go. However, be prepared to be asked why the partner did not take you with them or why you were not among the attorneys the firm has kept.

You might also want to say that there was not enough work you were interested in; however, that only tells the potential employer that you will leave if you do not get what you want.

The Environment/Culture of the Firm


Many lawyers might want to explain their job loss due to a harmful or toxic culture in the firm. While it shifts the blame from you and your work performance, it is not among the best explanations. Most law firms have very similar cultures and environments, so leaving one law firm, for this reason, is like leaving all firms.

Medical Reasons


You might have left a law firm because of your medical issues and needed to get healthy, or you also might have needed a break to take care of someone close to you. While the hiring lawyers will mostly understand such reasoning, they will want to know why you are not returning to your previous firm. So, an additional explanation for this is often necessary.

Taking Time-Off To Do Something Different


Another common explanation is taking time off to pursue other interests in your life, such as starting a business or relaxing and reflecting. Although many firms might take this as an understandable reason, it still does not explain why you are not returning to your original firm. It might also reveal that you are not dedicated enough to survive in the law firm world.

Being Transparent


If you choose to be transparent and tell the truth, you might be putting your chances at risk based on the severity of your mistakes. Most of the time, the hiring attorneys can understand that you have made an error that you will not do again because you have learned your lesson. However, some explanations are too serious for the firm to consider you seriously.

It could have been a small mistake, missing too much work, or not billing enough work; however, the mistake can also be getting sued or being accused of sexual harassment. The key is always to disclose publicly known things but be careful about saying too much about things the potential employer has no chance of understanding.


Losing a job is something most attorneys go through at some point in their careers. There is no shame in that. The important thing is how you accept it and what you do afterward. The key is to try to leave on good terms with your previous employer and secure a new job as soon as possible to avoid having a gap on your resume.

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