Work + Growth

Why It’s Important Not to Burn Bridges


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  • Even if you were miserable at a job, you should never burn bridges because you have no idea what the future holds
  • The legal world is a small one—you never know who knows whom, or which current colleagues might become colleagues again one day
  • Your reputation is everything; your behavior today could come back to help you—or haunt you—down the road

You spent three years of law school and countless hours on the job building up your reputation.

You’re positive, professional, and capable. And yet, that image you’ve worked so hard to build could be destroyed in seconds—if you decide to behave in a manner that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of your colleagues and/or superiors when you’re ready to move on.

And that’s just one of the reasons it’s important for lawyers to never burn bridges.

As it turns out, you don’t only have to make sure you don’t burn bridges when you leave a job. It’s something we as lawyers should always avoid. Read on for just a few of the many reasons why.

It’s a Small World

Surprise! The managing partner at your new firm went to law school with your old boss … who filled him in on the less-than-professional way you handled your exit. You can see why that’s not the most ideal way to kick off the next chapter of your career. You never know who knows whom, or which of your current colleagues might become a colleague again in the future, so it’s best to keep your behavior in check, even if you’d rather be brutally honest.

Reputation is Everything

Especially for lawyers, reputation is everything. It’s your reputation that will help you attract new assignments when you’re first starting out, new business once you’ve become more established, and new employment opportunities as your career progresses. If you handled a relationship or exit from your last job poorly, you risk that your actions might come back to haunt you down the road. You might never even hear about it; you could be passed over for a position you didn’t even know you could have had a chance at because of a long-ago burnt bridge.

You Never Know When You’ll Need an Ally

You can never predict when a tenuous connection might prove helpful, or someone you’ve worked with once might show up again in your professional life in the future. Imagine if you had burnt a bridge a few years ago with a frustrating opposing counsel while negotiating a deal for a client … only to find the same person representing a company with which another client was seeking a deal. Obviously, that’s not an enviable position. You need to conduct yourself calmly and respectfully in every interaction and assume that you could cross paths with people under different circumstances one day.

Be honest: Have you ever been tempted to leave a job in a spectacular, ridiculous, negative factor?

You Might Need a Reference

If you’re headed to a new firm, you might believe you no longer have the need for references from any of your current colleagues. After all, you’ll have a whole new group of coworkers who could potentially put in a good word for you should you need it down the road. Not so fast: A potential new employer might reach out to your current organization, and if they do, of course you want them to have nothing but positive things to say. If you burnt a bridge, you risk losing out on a new opportunity if word of your conduct spreads.

You Can’t Predict the Future

Think you’ll never work for a partner, a firm, in a certain city, in a specialty, even in law ever again? You can’t know any of those things for sure, regardless of your plans and intentions. You also can’t know whether someone with whom you’ve behaved unwisely will show up again in your life in an unexpected way—which is the reason behind another popular saying: Never say never.