Handling staff departures in professional services firms: the digital perspective

What to do with your publications when an author leaves your firm

Professional services firms suffer a unique commercial loss when fee earners leave compared to other businesses. Clients often have a close personal relationship with the departing fee earner in law and accountancy firms and the fee earner in turn is likely to have valuable knowledge about some of the most important commercial issues facing individual clients.

So losing a fee earner cuts deep for firms and even more so if you’ve lost a whole team – an event that can even precipitate the winding up of a smaller firm.

Hence erasure of a former fee earner’s former history at your firm can be thoroughgoing in their profiles, practice groups, and other references on the website. And in some instances this erasure is even a formal part of the departure agreement.

If the fee earner who left is also one of your more prominent authors – either simply because of the number of articles they’ve written or because they wrote one of the handful of articles that drive large numbers of visitors – then the erasure of that fee earner takes on particular internal importance.

Opinion in articles is not easily separable from who it belongs to – something clearly reflected in highly engaged readers often going from articles to author’s bios in analytics.

So here are four options to deal with authors who have left in your articles.

1.      Re-assign articles

You can re-assign articles to authors who didn’t write them but the message you are sending to junior and senior authors who remain in your firm – who you’re trying to encourage to write more articles – may not be quite the one you want to send. In addition, moral rights usually expressed in copyright legislation, give authors the right to be attributed correctly and to have the integrity of their work preserved. So if you change the author of an article in a number of jurisdictions like much of Europe, Canada, India, Australia, China and the UK you may be breaching an author’s moral rights. In many jurisdictions you cannot even assign moral rights – although if your firm has a moral rights clause in employment contracts it may be possible to renounce entitlement to take legal action for a moral right infringement.

2.      Rewrite articles

Due to the integrity preserving aspect of moral rights legislation it may still be problematic to rewrite an article and then add the author doing the rewrite (who is still at your firm) to the byline or entirely replace the existing author (there are also other issues with rewrites from an SEO perspective if you accidentally delete keyphrases your article ranks for). If you want to do a big rewrite we instead recommend inserting a link at the base or start of the article to a new article (by your current author) e.g. “See our updated article by Sue Smith on XYZ”

3.      Remove the author byline entirely

Aside from the moral rights issue above, your website may link straight from article byline to your fee earner’s profile on your own website  – so if you remove an author’s byline you lose the engagement with your fee earners mentioned above that we see in analytics. Don’t delete a fee earner’s bio on your own website without redirecting the author’s bio url to someone else in the same practice group (rather than leaving the reader with a ‘page not found’ error).

4.      Leave the author byline as-is

Our recommendation is usually to do this – but with a variation if you prefer. So either

  • leave the byline alone on the article – it means the article may still show up for a search on that author’s name – and then as suggested above your  website should redirect anyone coming into a former fee-earner’s bio page to someone else in that practice group.
  • change the author’s byline so it attributes authorship but indicates the fee-earners departure. For example “Sue Smith (formerly with XYZ Partners)”