• The desire to leave your current law firm can come from a variety of sources.
  • Most law firms don’t care what the reasons for your leaving are.
  • To them, if you leave, you leave.
  • Just don’t expect your old firm (or any other law firms) to welcome you back.

Summary: Thinking about leaving your current firm? Read this article before you do.

Why You Should NEVER Quit a Law Firm Job Without Another Lined Up: Once You Start Working in a Law Firm, If You Leave You Will Almost Certainly Not Be Able to Return

I speak with attorneys each week who left law firms for a variety of reasons and now want to return to them. Many are brimming with confidence and mistakenly believe that they are entitled to a lateral position in a prestigious law firm even though they are not currently working in one or have taken an extended absence.
 
  • Some left their firms and want to return to those same firms after an extended absence of some sort.
  • Others left their firms and now want to go to other firms after taking an extended maternity leave or another type of long hiatus.
  • Still others left to work in a different practice setting (in-house, government, small firm practice and so forth) and now want to go back to the kind of law firms they left.

While I hate to be the bearer of bad news, law firms do not look kindly on those not currently working, or not working in law firms: With limited exceptions, once you leave a law firm it is difficult (but not impossible) to go back. Even if you leave your law firm for an extended period due to a personal illness or to take care of an ill family member, for example, it becomes incredibly difficult to transition back into the firm. Even if the firm allows you to return, your days are often numbered.
 
A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes

Why do I say these things? Am I cruel? No, I have been working with attorneys trying to transition back into law firms after leaving them for about two decades now. I have watched over and over again how law firms treat attorneys trying to lateral who have left firms in their pasts.

If you leave a good law firm for any reason, you better have a contingency plan that involves never working in a prestigious law firm again, because the odds are better than 50/50 that you will not be welcome in one again. It does not matter where you went to law school, or how prestigious your last law firm (or law firms) was (or were), or how much business you had when you were in a law firm. In almost all instances, the attorney who leaves a law firm environment for any reason will find a cold reception when he or she tries to return.

There are reasons for this (and I will discuss them), and I will also discuss the variety of people who try to go back and end up finding a less-than-receptive job market and environment waiting for them when they do.