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Conducting Exit Interviews

Law Firm Operations
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Exit interviews can provide vital information which may help a law firm become more inclusive and responsive to all its current employees, making them more efficient and profitable.
 

By definition, an exit interview is a conversation between an employer and an outgoing employee. The objective is to determine how the firm can improve on its processes and culture. These interviews usually consist of an honest and forthcoming conversation as an outgoing employee often feels less reluctant to give an honest evaluation because he or she is no longer employed by the company. Exit interviews can provide vital information which may help a law firm become more inclusive and responsive to all its current employees, making them more efficient and profitable.

Who to Interview?

If a current employee has provided notice, definitely take the time to have a conversation with the individual. If the firm is terminating an employee due to poor performance, it may not be beneficial to have a conversation. The less said or communicated in such a situation is probably the best policy. If an employer has to terminate a group of people (mass layoff), it may make sense to reach out to these individuals after the termination event. The conversation may be more in line with how the firm can help the terminated employee with his or her next job opportunity. However, the terminated employee may provide good feedback as well.

What Do I Discuss?

These suggested questions are not all inclusive. In many cases, asking some of these questions will result in a conversation and not ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses.

Some routine questions to ask employees who are voluntarily leaving include:

  • Are you leaving for more money?
  • Are you leaving because you do not see a future with the firm?
  • In today’s environment, are you leaving for a more flexible work schedule which can include a hybrid work environment?
  • Were you approached by a recruiter, or did you actively start a search?
  • If a friend or colleague was considering joining the firm, would you recommend it?

Although these questions are important, they won’t help the firm become more inclusive or productive. Productivity involves workflow, technology, and processes and inclusion involves social interaction and the cultural environment. Make sure your questions address both areas.

The following questions address these topics, and can be asked to employees that were terminated due to a lay-off as well:

  • What are some things you think the firm can do to improve its operations?
  • What are some things you think the firm can do to improve its culture?
  • What processes did you find to be the most cumbersome?
  • Do you think that your opinion mattered?
  • If the firm was to make one change to improve employee engagement, what would it be?
  • While employed at the firm, did you feel as though you were treated fairly and appropriately?
  • Were you made to feel a valuable part of a team?
  • What was the best and worst part of working at the firm?
  • Did you look forward to coming to work at the firm? Why or why not?
 
Exit interviews offer valuable information that a firm might not otherwise easily obtain.
 

Who Should Conduct the Exit Interview and Where?

These conversations should be led by the departing employee’s immediate supervisor and the firm’s human resources professional. If the immediate supervisor was a factor in the reason the employee decided to leave the firm, then a decision maker in that employee’s department would be more suitable as an interviewer. The immediate supervisor and the human resources professional have to be prepared for constructive criticism and not defend the firm’s practices. The objective of the interview is to obtain any valuable information that may be used to improve the firm’s practices. It’s best not to have the conversation out of the office (restaurant or another public place). This conversation is extremely private, and the surroundings have to be private as well. If necessary, the meeting can be done remotely via Zoom. Phone calls, however, will not provide as much information as meeting with someone in person.

The human resources professional can lead the conversation by asking the basic questions and then defer to the immediate supervisor to ask questions that are unique to the person’s previous position.

When interviewing a terminated employee, discuss the firm’s policy regarding employer references and what the firm shares with any inquiring potential employer. If appropriate, offer to help the employee find alternative work by sharing his or her resume with colleagues or professional networks.

Going Forward

If the departing employee is leaving to join a competing firm, it is important to remind that person that all firm and client data is strictly confidential. Management needs to recognize that not every terminating employee situation is contentious, and they should encourage select employees to stay in touch with the firm. This will foster goodwill among those employees who remain with the firm. If the departing employee is taking current clients to a competing firm, be sure that everyone knows the protocols and that the clients have proactively agreed to the transition.

In summary, take the time to have this conversation no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Exit interviews offer valuable information that a firm might not otherwise easily obtain.

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