Leaving Litigation: What Happens When You Quit?

QuittingPreviously, Elaine explained her background and motivations for leaving her BigLaw litigation job, and talked about the pre-logistics of doing so. Today, it’s on to what happens when you finally DO give notice, and what it’s like to go to cocktail parties when you’re not working!

When did I leave?

I decided to leave after I received my bonus, which would give me greater financial freedom over the next few months. I left in late July, a month or so after we received our mid-year bonuses.

I actually considered staying until after the end of the year. However, I’d just ended one patent case in time to get staffed on another huge case — due to my “institutional knowledge” (i.e., familiarity with the kangaroo court frequently referred to as the “ITC”). I didn’t want to get embroiled in another ITC case again, with its accelerated schedule and limitless discovery. I was also afraid that, if I left in the middle of the case, my team members would get screwed.

How did I give notice and what were my last two weeks like?

People leave their jobs in many different ways. There’s the JetBlue flight attendant who had a meltdown, grabbed a beer from the plane and slid out of the plane via the emergency evacuation chute. I opted for “not with a bang but a whimper.”

To my surprise/relief, everybody was incredibly supportive.

I spent some nerve-wracking hours trying to pin down a couple of partners I really enjoyed working for — I wanted to tell them first before I told anybody else. I really wanted to speak to them either in person or at least live. Because they were traveling, I kept getting voicemail and finally had to resort to email.

At that point, there was still some possibility that I would return after working at the DA’s office, so I spoke to another partner about the logistics of doing so. Then I made the rounds — i.e., went from office to office telling people in person that I was taking time off to volunteer at the DA’s office. This took about an hour.

Again, while the partners expressed surprise and some disappointment, nobody gave me a hard time and most of them wished me luck. A couple of them said that they thought volunteering at the DA’s office was a great idea and would recommend it for anybody who was serious about being a trial lawyer.

I did a perfunctory exit interview over the phone where I was asked about why I was leaving, and about the best and worst parts of the job. I kept it brief and equally perfunctory.

Admittedly, things probably went a lot more smoothly for me than for somebody who said that he/she was leaving for a competing firm or doing absolutely nothing. Most other lawyers can’t fathom someone actually doing nothing, no matter how much they secretly want to do it.

Regardless of whether or not I planned to return, I knew that I had to wrap things up as well as I could.

The legal community is surprisingly small, and its members will remember if you do a shoddy case exit memo, toss out all of your work product without leaving behind any summaries or notes, and simply disappear without filling in the holes. And you never know when you might need references.

Since nobody wanted to give me new assignments, I had plenty of time to make detailed transition plans for my cases. I left my cell phone and email address for associates assuming my cases, in case they wanted to me ask me anything after my departure.

Finally, I packed up my Dwight Schrute bobblehead and that was that.

What were the hardest parts about leaving?

Money, or lack of it. It’s really, really, really hard to watch your bank account go down.

Also, of the seven sins, my biggest sin would be pride.

It was hard to tell myself — and others — that I didn’t have a job.

You don’t realize how frequently people say “So what are you doing now?” as a conversation starter until your answer is “Nothing” or “Professional couch cushion tester.”

I also felt like I was disappointing people. For example, the judge I clerked for had been an amazing trial attorney and groomed his clerks to be trial lawyers. He had been a great mentor.

I struggled with the email I wrote him, telling him that I felt like a square peg in a round hole.

There are far more mature people than me who at that point could have said that you shouldn’t live your life through what others thought of you. (Maybe this embarrassing inclination towards people pleasing should have tipped me off that litigation wasn’t exactly my thing.)

And while the Office Space dream of doing nothing sounds amazing when you are billing ridiculous hours, doing nothing with no end in sight and no money coming in can be very boring.

Finally, I missed the substance of litigation and trial work. While the firm lifestyle was difficult, I still love reading about trials and litigation tactics. I missed the war stories, the adrenaline, and working with a team that is going full speed ahead.

— – —

Next Up: What does Elaine do when she gets tired of doing nothing?

Did you miss the first parts of the story?


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