I Plan to Quit and Go Down in Flames

QI’m six years into my hellish gig as a big firm associate. I’ve basically worked my ass off, watched as annual bonuses dried up and disappeared, and have allowed the firm to manage my life—as just one example, I’ve have had four (4!) long-planned vacations cancelled over the years because of “last-minute work assignments.” Which were bullshit assignments, it always turned out.

It’s approaching summer and I’ve come to a beautiful dual realization: 1) I have enough cash in the bank to live and travel, although frugally, for more than two years; and 2) I need to get the hell out of this job and completely out of the life-suck known as big law. Basically, I’ve arrived at a karma moment in my career and only need a short bit of advice on two things:

  1. Should I quit my job in grand style?
  2. If I do, what should I do (or not do) to make a lasting impression?


AI’m both repulsed and intrigued by this karma moment. My repulsion likely comes from being a former big firm lawyer who knows you have to suck it up and take the crap as a well-paid associate. It comes with the territory, and even to this day I have an almost Pavlovian repulsion to any big firm associate who isn’t willing to man up and grind it out.

But, honestly, I’m rooting for you to take some styling action if you are truly leaving the law, just because it would be disruptive and entertaining—or damaging to your career, depending on what you do and where you want to go later (yes, of course, there is a later).

So, my rational lawyer brain says give the firm two weeks notice and live happily ever after cruising the islands near Fiji. But my reptilian and adolescent brain says “oh, yeah, bring it on.”

Here are three suggestions. I welcome and solicit others.

  1. Walk into work on your last day, strip off your suit in your office, leaving it on your office chair as if you are still there, and then walk naked down the hall to the managing partner’s office to hand in an intrafirm memo, which lays out everything that is wrong with the place. Then head to the elevator, saying your goodbyes and good lucks along the way, as if you are just going out for a walk. Make sure you have a change of clothing on the first floor, as you wouldn’t want to risk a criminal indecency charge out of the charade. But if you are lucky, you may make YouTube or Above the Law.
  2. Arrange to participate in the next practice group meeting by teleconference. Then hire an out-of-work stand-up comic to play the part of you, who is drunk and calling in from a bar and—as a layperson—keeps asking clarifying questions about legal issues. At the moment it seems you will be cut off or it gets too bizarre, simply say “oh, shit, I gotta go,” then hang up, text “I Quit” to everyone you know at the firm, and never look back.
  3. Remove everything from your office late at night so that it is empty except for the furniture it came with. Be careful not to take any firm property. Then leave a handwritten letter on the desk explaining, rather cryptically, why you had to leave so suddenly and that you will “likely not return, given the circumstances that I cannot fully disclose.” Mention credit default swaps, problems with wired payments, a sexual tryst or all three. As a final touch, put yellow caution or police tape across and outside your closed office door as you leave.

One further word of advice. Make sure, whatever you do, that you don’t imperil or involve a client. It’s one thing to go down in flames and to feel, however slightly, that you are bringing the firm to its knees with you. That could be heroic. But dragging a client into it? That’s douchebag.

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

5 Comments

  1. Chipper

    June 1, 2012 at 9:33 am

    I love the caution tape idea. Some ketchup splatters could add to the effect.

  2. addie

    June 1, 2012 at 10:04 am

    I love the caution tape idea too- but forget the note. Caution tape, empty room, and nothing else at all. Let ‘em wonder.

  3. Daniel

    June 1, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Bingo, Addie.

  4. southern bitter

    June 4, 2012 at 11:18 am

    one thought: Milton from Office Space.

  5. Leah

    June 6, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    I worked in a mid-sized firm for a year and 31 days. I hated it. Every Sunday around 4 pm a knot would start to form in my stomach when I thought about the following Monday. When death is at your doorstep, are you going to regret all those billable hours or are you going to regret wasting time on work that you absolutely hated.

    When I left my firm, I did not, however, burn bridges. I left to work as a prosecutor for the State. I am glad that I did not. I still see partners and work with partners from my old firm. Do not let your hatred for your work degrade your integrity or reputation. Some lawyers are assholes. It doesn’t mean you can turn into one too.

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