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When Someone Leaves the Firm, Don't Forget the Exit Interview

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 29, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

For all the attention and effort spent interviewing new candidates for employment, firms often overlook the exit interview. This is a mistake. Exit interviews offer attorneys and support staff the chance to discuss their experiences more candidly and allows the firm to assess what areas it might need to improve in.

If you're not regularly conducting exit interviews, it's time to start. If you're already doing them, now's the time to improve. Here's how.

When, How, and Who

Exit interviews usually occur the week before someone leaves the firm. The goal of the exit interview is to evaluate an employee's experiences with the firm, garner feedback, and, eventually, to implement improvements.

You'll want feedback for all employees, too, not just your highest performing ones. After all, high turnover in entry-level positions might not be as shocking as the departure of your most promising attorney, but it can indicate serious problems in the firm.

To help get the most out an exit interview, you will want to give the employee notice of the type of information you'll want from them beforehand.

To encourage candor, exit interviews should be conducted on neutral ground by a neutral party. That means in a conference room, for example, instead of an employee's office. Direct managers should never conduct an exit interview -- after all, one of the goals of the exit interview is to identify problems in management.

What to Ask

What you ask will depend largely on the nature of your firm and the position and circumstances of the employee leaving. Almost all exit interviews should touch on some of the following questions however:

  • What was the main reason for leaving the firm, if the departure is voluntary?
  • Did the position meet your expectations?
  • Were there sufficient opportunities for growth and advancement?
  • What were the main roadblocks you encountered in your position?
  • Where do you think the firm could improve?
  • Would you recommend your position to others? Why or why not?
  • What suggestions or advice would you have for your replacement?

Be consistent. Asking the same questions throughout exit interviews can allow you to compare responses over time and analyze what issues are persistent and which have been addressed. Remember, the exit interview is meaningless until you put what's been learned into practice, so an effective firm should have procedures in place to regularly review feedback gathered from exit interviews.

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