Media Relations, Public Relations

The Real Reason Partners Leave Law Firms

This interesting article written by Roy Strom for Bloomberg Big Law Business this month points to some provocative suggestions from law firm leaders as to why partners or groups of attorneys leave large firms, often at their firm’s request, and move laterally to other firms. A key question is what the firms should tell the press, which is interested in the reasons behind any departure in what Strom calls Big Law’s Free Agent Era.

Strom says that a common response from law firm managing partners these days to requests for comment is that lawyers move on because they’ve been told that they’re no longer part of their firm’s strategic plan. He says that’s a fairly new idea in the law firm world that firms develop strategic plans and execute on them to the extent that they let groups of partners go if they don’t fit the plan.

I don’t necessarily disagree with this type of messaging from a law firm – when it is true. If a law firm managing partner can convincingly demonstrate that a plan exists and that it includes, say, a strong emphasis on litigation and regulatory work and less work in financial institutions and IP law, then she should tell that to a reporter. But in my experience, that isn’t often the case.

It’s challenging to write the perfect quote that reflects the reason why someone leaves a firm. It could be the practice was not profitable. Or that the individual got more money from the other firm to lateral. Or, in the worst case, that the partner was a huge distraction to other attorneys because he was a yeller or was accused of sexual misconduct.

There are many be other reasons, but most of these instances, a firm does not want to reveal the truth. And why would it? It generally does not benefit the firm or the leaving attorney.

It’s not easy to respond to a reporter who gets a tip when someone announces a departure. (What’s even worse is having to respond to a reporter’s request when you did not know the move was happening, but that’s a different type of problem.)

In the nearly 20 years working with law firms, I have noticed a constant. Lawyers leave for many reasons and the responses as to why that happens have always communicated the same vanilla messages — unless the firm does not respond at all.