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Common reasons for people leaving a law department

A survey now underway asks law department respondents, “What have you found to be the most common reason for people [presumably, just lawyers] leaving the business [presumably, the law department]?” The four choices offered on the survey deserve comment: “Career progression,” “s alary,” “join competitor,” and “redundancy.”

My supposition is that the most common reason why lawyers resign from their in-house position is that they have been offered a better position at another company. That would be “career progression,” and surely dominates the other reasons. The chance to become a general counsel lures many away.

When lawyers resign, it is unlikely simply to get paid more. They move to add responsibility or have more opportunity, which only coincidentally may bring a higher salary (See my post of April 26, 2012: external hires get 18% more pay than internal candidates.).

No one leaves just to join a competitor. They may go to a competitor, but they are attracted by its offer or repelled by circumstances at their former company. To stay within one’s industry makes sense particularly for commercial lawyers because they have accumulated knowledge of its business practices and legal challenges. Legal specialists rely less on that business familiarity.

Being laid off, or the British equivalent of “redundancy,” probably accounts for a small percentage of departures, barring mergers or acquisitions.

Some other reasons for departures could account for more departures and might have been included among the survey choices. For example, retirement, moves out of the law department to elsewhere in the company, trailing a spouse, or in anticipation of a spinoff or merger where survival prospects are dim.

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