When you turn down an offer you need to make the party you are turning down the offer from think it is the hardest decision you have ever made.
I was included in the following email string a couple of years ago ago that was probably circulated to tens of thousands of attorneys. I will quote it below in full since it is so instructive:
Sent: Friday, February 03, 2006 9:23 p.m.
Subject: Thank you
Dear Attorney ###,
At this time, I am writing to inform you that I will not be accepting your offer.
After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the pay you are offering would neither fulfill me nor support the lifestyle I am living in light of the work I would be doing for you. I have decided instead to work for myself, and reap 100% of the benefits that I sow.
Thank you for the interviews.
Sent: Monday, February 06, 2006 12:15 p.m.
Subject: RE: Thank you
Given that you had two interviews, were offered and accepted the job (indeed, you had a definite start date), I am surprised that you chose an e-mail and a 9:30 p.m. voicemail message to convey this information to me. It smacks of immaturity and is quite unprofessional. Indeed, I did rely upon your acceptance by ordering stationary and business cards with your name, reformatting a computer and setting up both internal and external e-mails for you here at the office. While I do not quarrel with your reasoning, I am extremely disappointed in the way this played out. I sincerely wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.
Sent: Monday, February 06, 2006 4:01 p.m.
Subject: Re: Thank you
A real lawyer would have put the contract into writing and not exercised any such reliance until he did so.
Again, thank you.
Sent: Monday, February 06, 2006 4:18 p.m.
Subject: RE: Thank you
Thank you for the refresher course on contracts. This is not a bar exam question. You need to realize that this is a very small legal community, especially the criminal defense bar. Do you really want to start pissing off more experienced lawyers at this early stage of your career?
Sent: Monday, February 06, 2006 4:28 p.m.
Subject: Re: Thank you
bla bla bla
I have thought about this email numerous times since I received it and believe it is very useful for framing any discussion regarding how to turn down an offer. Invariably, most attorneys and law students find themselves in a position where they receive an offer from an employer and decide-for a variety of reasons-to turn down the offer. When you receive an offer you are going to turn down there are several things you need to remember.
First, regardless of what city you are in the legal community is small. Even in a city as large as New York you are likely to come across attorneys in your practice area again and again throughout your career. You will run into them at bar events. You will encounter them in the course of your practice. Some of these attorneys may join a firm or company you are with in the future. Numerous, numerous encounters will happen. You always want to have good public relations on your side.
If you burn bridges or anger people when turning down an offer they will resent this and they will get back at you in some way most likely. You need to be very, very careful. No one is omnipotent.
Second, if you received an offer there was most likely some sort of connection between you and the employer-something clicked right. You received an offer because someone liked you and believed that you could do a good job with the firm. You need to embrace and treat people who believe in you well. Not doing this is a huge mistake. The most important people to you in your career are the people who have believed in you. Do not forget this.
I remember hearing a very famous and successful lawyer address a group of people one time in the past. I would estimate that this particular attorney had a book of business in excess of $10,000,000 and the attorney was very impressive personally and professionally on numerous levels. This attorney stated that the biggest mistake he made in his career was not being better friends with people in law school and not getting closer to attorneys he met when he was younger. I thought a lot about this and realized that one of the biggest mistakes that people make is not getting closer and having a better relationship with people. You never know who can help you along the way to success throughout your career.
Third, you may need a job from the firm you turned an offer down from in the future. The marketability of an attorney in a given practice area and firm can change at the speed of light. One day corporate is the hottest practice area and the next it is the worst practice area and attorneys are forced to change careers it is so slow. You simply never know and need to be very, very careful. Do not overestimate yourself.
Throughout my career as a legal recruiter I have seen many an attorney receive an offer and turn it down for a larger firm, a higher paying job-you name it-and then several months later lose a job or decide that the job is not what they want. You need to understand that where you are today in terms of your marketability may not be where you are tomorrow. Regardless of where you went to law school, what firm you are currently at-you name it-that can all change in an instant. Do not forget this.
Fourth, if you conduct yourself well the employer may come back with a counter offer. I have seen associates offered partner positions by the same firm after turning down an offer. I have seen salaries increased and all sorts of other great things happen. You do not need to give specific reasons for turning down the offer-but you need to remember that if you conduct yourself with class you do not know what sort of good things may happen. Be very, very alert that what is a negative thing you are doing could turn out to be a real positive if handled well. You just never know.
This brings me to the answer to the question. When you turn down an offer you need to make the party you are turning down the offer from think it is the hardest decision you have ever made. You want them on your side. You want turning down the offer to be a positive experience for you and the party you are turning down the offer from. You want the person you are turning down the offer from to be your advocate in the future-you need them on your side regardless of what you may believe at this moment. Create a positive aurora around you and your career and use the offer as an opportunity to do this.