Time to Say Goodbye to an Employee?

You’ve tried clarification, reminders, warnings, patience and tolerance, maybe even retraining. But it isn’t working, and you both know it. Firing employees is not likely a task you took into consideration when you thought about becoming a lawyer; but here you are, an employer, in the position of having to fire an employee.

It will never be pleasant; but there’s a right way and a wrong way. The wrong way can lead to lawsuits, reputational damage, maybe even stolen clients or breaches of confidentiality. The right way can lead to the same things, of course; but the odds are lower. Here are a few tips:

Do it sooner rather than later.

Why? Because the bad employee is affecting the morale or productivity of people other than you, and your other employees are questioning why you’re tolerating the bad behaviour. Worse, the bad employee − through incompetence, malice, or both − may pose real risks to your practice and to the interests of your clients. Give and document the appropriate warnings, and then take action.

Be clear about your reasons.

If you’re dismissing him or her for cause, state the cause. It should be the REAL cause, and your “evidence” should be documented.

Don’t say much else.

Share as few details about the dismissal as possible. Don’t worry about other staff, the ex-employee’s future employers, or anyone else hearing “only her side of the story”. My all-time favourite conflict-management maxim: “If you wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty; difference is, the pig enjoys it.” The more willing the departing employee is to criticize or challenge your actions, the more important it is NOT to engage.

Use a checklist to manage the dissolution of the working relationship.

Our Employee Departure Checklist was the 6th most popular download, in 2013, from our practicePRO collection of dozens of practice management resources. Other lawyers have clearly found it to be a useful reminder of all the myriad details that must be addressed when an employee leaves. You might like it, too.


You hired someone who wasn’t suitable. That means that − however spectacularly he or she failed to live up to your expectations − you made an error in judgment, training, or both. What went wrong? Were there red flags along the way that were missed? Interpersonal dynamics are complicated; lying on resumes is common − the occasional poor hiring decision is not unusual. But if you find yourself terminating employees on a regular basis, the reality is that the problem may be sitting on the OTHER side of the desk. Might you be a poor judge of others’ qualifications? Could you be difficult to work for? The end of any relationship, personal or otherwise, is an important opportunity for self-reflection. Firing people no fun? Get to the bottom of what went wrong, and you’ll reduce the chance that you’ll have to do it again anytime soon.

This article is by Nora Rock, corporate writer/policy analyst at LAWPRO.

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