What to Do When Colleagues Leave Unexpectedly


By Jamy J. Sullivan, JD, Robert Half


The legal team I’m part of has recently lost a number of key members, and I’ve been struggling to cope with my workload, which has expanded significantly since their departure. What’s the best way to deal with this kind of change?



Retirements, illnesses, downsizing and career opportunities elsewhere — there are many reasons a legal team might suddenly find itself short staffed. Whatever the cause, the effects can ripple through the entire firm. Here are a few tips for dealing with the situation by not only managing your own workload but also helping the organization as a whole cope.

Be proactive

Losing colleagues can be stressful. As you mention in your question, you may feel overwhelmed by the increased workload, but you may also be anxious about your future. Instead of brooding over it, don’t hesitate to approach your manager to express your concerns and seek guidance. Chances are, they will appreciate your openness and be more than willing to provide support. During the discussion, make sure you understand your manager's expectations during this period. Be honest about your capacity and availability and ask for help when needed. Later, update them regularly on progress and challenges. 

Be adaptable and open to learning

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself taking on tasks outside your job description or interacting with new colleagues who have different workstyles or areas of expertise. Try to look on this as a blessing in disguise because it could allow you to expand your skill set, knowledge and professional network, opening up new avenues for career advancement. 

Support the recruitment and onboarding of new team members

If you get wind of a plan by the firm to hire new staff or bring in contract professionals to take on some of the workload, volunteer to help with the transition. Your first step might be to offer your input on the skills and qualities needed for these new resources. Then ask whether you might have a role in the onboarding process for new staff where you’d share your expertise and experience and offer guidance and constructive feedback. 

Change is a constant in the legal profession, and your ability to demonstrate resilience and skill in navigating transitions will not go unnoticed by your managers and clients. A positive approach can help both you and your team members weather this challenging time. 


Jamy J. Sullivan is executive director of the legal practice at Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized talent solutions firm. Robert Half offers contract, temporary and permanent placement solutions, and is the parent company of Protiviti®, a global consulting firm. Visit RobertHalf.com.