Negotiating The Salary You Want… At The Firm You Want

So, you’re investigating your options.

Whether it’s for higher job security, salary, or benefits, investigating a career change is quite common for law firm professionals.

Some employees are looking for a change in geographical location. Others just want a raise in compensation.

Whatever the reason, conducting research on a new job opportunity can actually increase the negotiating power you wield in your current one.

Here are a few ways to successfully navigate the negotiation process—at your present firm or the one you hope to join in the future.

Research your options.

“The advice I got when I was graduating from college was try to have the offer from your second best choice in your pocket when you negotiate with your first,” advises Danny Ertel, a founding partner at Vantage Partners, LLC, a negotiation consulting firm in Boston, and co-author of The Point of the Deal: How to Negotiate When Yes is Not Enough (via HBR).

If you have offers from other firms, don’t be shy about sharing those numbers. Firms will fight for the candidate who is right for the job, and negotiate more competitively when there are other offers on the table.

If you don’t have alternative employment options, however, then you should at least know the market rate for your position. Read comments on,, or for salary information and estimations.

If you have friends or university peers working in the same industry, ask them for their opinion. If you are close enough, ask for their exact salary.

If you come to a negotiation prepared with realistic salary numbers, you’ll feel more confident when you counter for your own.

Play to your strengths when the offer is too low.

Employers are prepared to negotiate. And, it’s likely their first offer will be low.

When this happens, stay positive and firm. Don’t go on the defensive. Rather, use language including, “Thank you. I’ll have to take a day or two to think about that offer.”

Or, “I’m not sure that number takes into account the superior language/ computer/ technical experience/ skills I can bring to this position.”

Most experts agree you shouldn’t immediately accept the first offer. However, you shouldn’t curtly dismiss it, either.

“You don’t want to negotiate so hard that people are sick of you before your first day,” says Katherine McGinn, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and co-author of “When Does Gender Matter in Negotiation?” (via HBR).

Take some time and think about what you want most from this employer. More money? Better benefits? Paid moving costs?

Play to your strengths when negotiating. For example, if you’re uncomfortable negotiating in person or on the phone, write an e-mail instead.

If think you are going to be railroaded verbally, write a succinct e-mail response to the initial offer. This way, you can put into writing exactly what you want from the firm, while maintaining a professional and positive tone.

At the end of this e-mail, be sure to explain why you have returned via text versus voice.

Include a line, such as “I thought I’d reach out over e-mail first so that you would have time to reflect on this counter-offer.” Or, “I wanted to put this in writing so that we are on the same page during our next conversation.”

Although money is usually the bottom line, McGinn suggests asking yourself, “How can I build the biggest job I’m interested in having?” before negotiating with your potential employer.

Think about those non-monetary elements, in addition to salary, that will transform a career into a calling.

In the end, both sides should be reasonable and honest during a negotiation. The worst outcome for employees would be to over-promise and then under-deliver. For employers, work performance and retention inevitably suffer when associates are underpaid and unhappy.



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