Five Questions Law Firm Professionals Should Ask When Hired

If “getting a new job” was a 2012 resolution come true already, be sure to look before you leap into the New Year.

As a law firm professional, you should consider asking the following five questions before accepting any new offer of employment.

1. Is this a base figure?

After you are presented with an offer, find out more about the compensation structure.

Law firms range in their compensation packages. Some offer hiring bonuses, semi-annual bonuses, stock options, or percentages for any new business brought in.

The question also provides your future employer with an opportunity to boast about the monetary and intrinsic benefits of working for the firm. All other variables alike, a free gym membership may end up becoming your deciding factor (especially in places like Manhattan).

Based on a complete understanding of the compensation package, you will also be able to make an informed decision—and even have a leveraging position—when choosing between firms.

2. When should I expect to receive this offer in writing?

It’s easy to forget in the moment to ask this very simple question. But, be sure all the details of your negotiation are written down on paper.

In any negotiation, a written contract is a must-have. So, phrase the question rhetorically—don’t take no for an answer.

As a lawyer, you know best how employment contracts and salary negotiations mean little without signed evidence of the exact conversation and figure.

3. Will you please send me a copy of the job description?

For obvious reasons, a law firm wants to present itself in the best possible light. As a result, sometimes the position described to a candidate during the interview sounds too good to be true.

Sometimes this is even the case.

Ask for the job description before accepting a job offer. Not only should you examine the list of day-to-day responsibilities to evaluate whether or not the position is still appealing, but you should also ensure that you are adequately prepared for the skill and experience requirements.

When possible, ask for a copy of the management hierarchy or firm organizational chart. It’s helpful to understand the possibilities for promotion and the chain of (reporting) command.

4. When and how often are your firm’s performance evaluations, and will an increase in salary be commensurate with a positive review at that time?

All law firms should have periodic evaluations. Find out when your performance will be evaluated by your manager.

In addition, ask about the firm’s bonus structure and salary increases. Sometimes these performance-based actions are related to the review period, but sometimes not.

All employees should know from day one how and when their work will be reviewed and also how any superior work performance will be rewarded.

If you are being offered a job in close proximity to the evaluation period, ask whether or not your future raise or bonus will be affected. Depending on the response, you may want to negotiate a higher base salary now.

These days, don’t expect performance reviews or the month of January to automatically result in increased pay.

5. When is the start date?

Be clear about your expected timeline for decision-making and start of employment. This date may affect other personal calendar items, like health insurance or childcare.

When changing firms or careers, don’t forget to take advantage of a delayed start date. You can take your family on an impromptu vacation or sign up for that 3-week woodworking class you always wanted to take.

Finally, expect a conversation about compensation to be difficult for both you and the firm’s hiring partner.

Most managers have not been adequately trained to discuss compensation. And, they have not been the sole party responsible for making salary decision, which makes it difficult to discuss compensation with any conviction or ownership. Be understanding in the event a hiring partner cannot answer all of your questions.

The process of compensation negotiation is nerve wracking, but—clearly—exciting. Congrats!

-WB 

For law firms looking to streamline the hiring process, check out C4CM’s course “Communicating Compensation to Employees,” which gives firm administrators clear communication guidelines to manage difficult conversations and improve existing systems.

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