Salary Negotiations: Dos and Don’ts

Whether post-offer letter as a new associate or during performance reviews at the end of the year, lawyers must, at one point, negotiate their salary.

Not all lawyers, however, are meant for the throws of a fast-paced litigation environment. Outside the courtroom, many of us mishandle the process of negotiation.

Discussions about money are difficult. In a professional environment, the company knows best its limits and budgets. At the same time, the employee knows best how much their time is worth.

Whatever the circumstance, law firm managers and employees should arrive to meetings about salary and benefits adequately prepared, using the following tips.

Do Your Due Diligence

Whether through Glassdoor or other salary websites, employees should know the market rate for their position. Whether paralegal or first-year associate, legal services salaries are one the best advertised online.

Take into account the tier of your law firm and your individual pedigree to come up with two numbers. Your ideal salary, and then your minimum.

Law firm hiring managers should also be well versed on the market rate of employees in their industry. And, in negotiations, should the firm extend a number below this average, be prepared to justify the offer. Perhaps your firm provides superior intrinsic benefits or healthcare. Or, your law firm is small, giving associates greater trial experience and sooner than its BigLaw counterparts.

Whatever the trade-off, be sure your new hires feel happy in their choice and your firm hasn’t broken the bank.

Don’t Go Below Your Bottom Line

For employees, set your minimum salary requirement in advance. Then, in negotiations, don’t go below this number. Sometimes if a firm offers a wage very close to that limit, you’ll be tempted. Nevertheless, hold fast.

A firm who really appreciates your skills will honor the difference. In addition, discontent over salary will only make you begrudge the firm and your work at a later date when hours are long and hard.

Firms should also come up with a bottom line. No single employee is worth breaking the whole budget—no matter his or her Ivy League education, exceptional background, or interesting profile. Law is a team effort, and paying that much-desired partner or associate too much will reap too little.

Do Sell Yourself

Salary negotiations are an active process. Especially in the case of performance reviews, sell yourself to the firm. Don’t assume that they know every little contribution you’ve made for the past 12 months.

In fact, prior to a performance review, make a list or outline your accomplishments at the firm in writing and practice dictating them. Prepare a 5-minute speech that explains why you deserve your ideal salary raise.

For new hires, prepare an elevator pitch explaining why your skills deserve a higher salary than those of your peers. Why do you stand out? Why are your skills worth more?

Even if a firm manager is the first to talk and immediately explains there will be no salary increases, speak up anyway. It’s a great time for superiors to be aware of your value to the firm. And, if they are impressed, you may be first in line to receive a raise next year, as the funds become available.

Don’t Settle

Negotiations can be tough on the nerves. Employees must understand that this is business, not personal. Firms, for their turn, should also realize that employees are only pursuing their just reward after many years of hard work and education.

In the end, even if you experience a negative outcome (blame the double-dip recession) don’t let a salary dictate your self-worth or your positive attitude.



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