Biglaw, Books, Career Alternatives, Email Scandals, Kids, Litigators, Loyola Law School, Partner Issues, Partner Profits, Weirdness

A Farewell to Remember: One Partner’s Dramatic Departure Memo

If you look back at the great law firm departure memos of years past, you’ll see that almost all of them were written by associates. When partners leave Biglaw, they tend to do so in rather staid fashion, presumably because they have less to complain about (although query whether that’s always the case; see, e.g., A Partner’s Lament).

Every now and then, you’ll come across a colorful farewell message penned by a partner. One such email, sent out last Friday by a longtime partner leaving a major law firm, is now making the rounds. Here’s a teaser: “I have realized that I cannot simultaneously meet the demands of career and family. Without criticizing those who have chosen lucre over progeny, let me just say that I am leaving the practice of law.”

Wow. So who’s the partner in question, which firm did he just leave with such flair, and what’s he planning to do next?

Let’s take a closer look at the departure memo, which went out to everyone in the Chicago office of Sidley Austin on Friday, December 30. A tipster tees it up:

Check out this farewell (retirement) email that went out to the whole Chicago office of Sidley…. Every single line of it is gold. I don’t know who this partner is, but he may be my new role model.

What a year for farewell emails at Sidley… Unfortunately, this wasn’t sent firm-wide with high importance, like Tyler’s.

(As you may recall, Tyler Coulson is the former Sidley associate who quit the firm in order to walk across the country with his dog, Mabel. In case you’re wondering, he survived — and is now a finalist for Lawyer of the Year honors.)

Now, on to the partner’s farewell email. We’re going to break it up into segments to facilitate commentary, but if you’d like to read the message without interruption, we reprint it in full on the final page of this post. The email begins:

I have realized that I cannot simultaneously meet the demands of career and family. Without criticizing those who have chosen lucre over progeny, let me just say that I am leaving the practice of law.

Actually, I think you just did. But considering that partner profits remain robust and some partners’ progeny are bratty enough to induce their parents to abandon them by the side of the road, I’m not sure I blame those who choose lucre.

My epiphany may have come a bit late as my youngest child — I believe his name is Erik — is 24. But as I always said after missing a filing deadline, better late than never.

I have made friendships at Sidley that I will treasure well into the first quarter of 2012….

This is great stuff. I laughed out loud at least twice, at “I believe his name is Erik” and at “well into the first quarter of 2012.” It’s a bit harsh — protocol calls for raving about friendships you’ll treasure “for a lifetime” — but the “first quarter” line is funny (because it’s true).

But a career based on the perception of untapped potential, rather than on actual production, has a limited shelf life. I frankly would have expected management to have caught on years ago.

The humility cuts the harshness of the preceding sentences. The writer is essentially saying, “I’m not a superstar or mega-rainmaker; I’m not sure why they’ve allowed me to stick around so long.”

I trust that my longevity will serve as a beacon of hope for underperforming lawyers of all ages. No need to name names: you know who you are.

Farewell and best wishes,

The writer’s implied reference to himself as “underperforming” extends the humility a bit farther; it’s a charming act of self-deprecation. But the final snarky sentence, concluding with “you know who you are,” brings back the bite of that “first quarter of 2012″ line. Rhetorically speaking, this is an interestingly ambiguous departure memo.

So who wrote this intriguing email? His name is David B. Johnson, and until recently he was a litigation partner at Sidley Austin. His bio has been removed from the firm website, but it used to read:

DAVID B. JOHNSON is a partner in the Litigation Group of the Chicago office. He has a broad-based litigation practice with an emphasis on consumer and securities class action defense. He has also handled numerous business and commercial contract disputes regarding such issues as employer-employee relations, first refusal and preemptive rights and franchise relationships.

Johnson received his J.D. in 1983 from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and his B.A. from Marquette University in 1978. He has been a member of the Illinois bar since 1983 and is also admitted in the Seventh Circuit and the Central and Northern Districts of Illinois.

We reached out to David Johnson for comment on his unusual farewell. What did he have to say for himself? And what will he be doing next (besides spending more time with 24-year-old Erik)?

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