Question: A secretary at your small firm, with whom you’re friendly, confides that she has found a new job in another field. She seems genuinely excited. She’s vital to the firm, and finding a replacement will take time, but she mentions she needs to work for a few more weeks before giving notice. Should you tell anyone?
Answer: Technically, you're not obligated to report her treason to your partners and fellow lawyers. Indeed, doing so would betray the confidence of a loyal and dedicated coworker and friend. But losing a vital staff person, particularly at a small firm, is a drag. Try to protect the interests of both the firm and the secretary. Tell her, "I feel good about the work you've done, and you know I like you personally. But I must share this with the partners so that we'll have enough time to find a suitable replacement."
Emphasize the crucial role she's played in the daily operation of the firm, and even suggest that by letting everyone know sooner, her standing with the firm will only improve. Encourage her to give notice earlier than she'd planned and to help with the search for and training of a new hire. Be clear with yourself and with her about your position and why you stand where you do. This will temper any disruption caused by her departure; plus, your colleagues will see her actions as those of a thoughtful and caring employee who appreciates the job she's had and who wants to ensure a smooth hand off.
This plan could backfire, of course. She came to you because she thought you were her cool friend on the inside, and she could view this as a betrayal. So you risk losing her as a pal. But if she sours when you say you're going to alert the firm, just remember: She's swell, but she's not the one who signs your paycheck.