Law Practice Management

Tips for 'The Terminator': Don't Hesitate, Don't Criticize & Don't Feel Bad

Once a happy hiring partner, many a lawyer has become jaded about an associate’s prospects, over time, as the young lawyer fails to meet expectations about work quality, deadlines and skill development.

At that point, “the Terminator” needs to take swift and decisive action, says the Institute of Management & Administration in an article on

Firing the associate can be beneficial for all concerned, the article says: The law firm is losing partner time and money that could be better-spent developing a more promising associate, and the young attorney likely would be a better fit and better able to progress in a different job.

Long before this point, of course, the firm’s seasoned lawyers should have provided training and face-to-face feedback, stating where improvement is needed, giving deadlines and following up with new skill development opportunities when these expectations are met. If, under this program, the associate doesn’t make sufficient progress, it’s not your fault, the article tells the Terminator, and it’s time to swing the ax:

“Do not let yourself feel bad. If you, the supervising attorney who was primarily responsible for the development of the now-departed associate, have taken the above steps, you should be confident that you are doing the right thing for the firm, for the other attorneys in the firm, and for the associate you have to let go. … Be strong and do what you know is best.”

When firing an associate, however, criticism should be avoided, the article suggests, noting that the fired former colleague is often someone liked and respected by a number of partners and peers.

While those who are performing well should be reassured that there is no reason to fear for their own jobs, reasons why the associate has been let go should be soft-pedaled, the article advises. Phrases such as “not a good fit for our type of practice” and “different skills set” may be helpful for this purpose.

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