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Evaluating and Negotiating Law Job Offers

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Candidates often are very excited when they finally receive an offer. It feels wonderful to know that you are wanted and that the long and sometimes frustrating job search is coming to a close. In their enthusiasm, many candidates assume that the only options available are to accept or decline the offer on the table. Many shudder at the idea of negotiating for more.

Negotiating is nothing more than individuals working together to arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement. If you do not negotiate up front, you may be underpaid by several thousands of dollars over the years. There is room for disagreement and disappointment as well as negotiation and compromise.



How you negotiate will affect your relationship with the employer. Negotiating should not be viewed as adversarial or confrontational. Rather, it should be viewed as an opportunity to win the respect and admiration of employers because it allows you to demonstrate confidence in your own marketability. Unemployed job seekers in particular should keep this in mind because they have a tendency to diminish their own worth. Instead of assuming you have to "prove yourself to employers," remember to highlight your existing accomplishments which already "prove your worth." Think in terms of exchanging your talent and labor for cash and benefits. Confidence is an extremely important asset at this phase of the job hunt.

In this tight market, many legal employers feel they can maintain their ground on salary offers. As more qualified lawyers glut
the market, many job seekers are willing to take lower salaries. If you decide to apply for a job that is beneath your salary history, be prepared to explain why.

A general rule regarding the discussion of salary is to never bring up the subject until an offer of employment has been made. The goal is to give yourself and the interviewer a chance to get to know one another. That way both of you will have a better idea of how flexible you are willing to be with salary negotiations. You want to ensure that you acquire enough information about the job so that you will be able to effectively communicate that you possess the necessary qualifications for the position. Your goal is to get the employer to invest enough time in you so that you can illustrate that:

  • you have done your research on the firm/organization
  • you expect to receive a salary appropriate for your level of qualifications and experience.
  • you expect to be compensated on the basis of performance, not on past salary history.

The last point is particularly important. The pay differential in the legal profession is unlike almost any other profession. External factors such as geography, size of firm and type of practice, can account for a salary differential of more than $50,000!
The salary question can crop up at any time during the job hunt and it comes in many forms:

  • What is your current salary?
  • How much were you paid at your previous employer?
  • What are your salary requirements?
  • What is the lowest figure you would accept?
  • How much do you think you are worth?
  • Why should we pay you more than other 5th year associates?

Although you should never ask about the salary until you are offered the job, you must be prepared to discuss it whenever the employer raises the issue.

Should the salary question arise early in the interview process and you feel you do not have enough information about the position, try to deflect the question.

  • "I am a bit unclear about the responsibilities of the position.

Could you tell me a little more about...."

If you state a figure outside of the range the employer has in mind-either too high or too low-you risk having it used against you as an easy, objective screening device.

Note whether you have been asked to reveal your salary history or salary requirements. In other disciplines, salary history can illustrate if a candidate is moving up, laterally or down the corporate ladder. In such disciplines, salary can provide some gauge for level of expertise or it can explain frequent job changes. But because the wide disparity of salary ranges within the legal field is often based on something other than individual performance, salary history actually reveals very little. For example, an attorney moving from the private sector to the public sector may be prepared to take a 50% cut in pay. Does that mean he is working his way down the corporate ladder? Probably not. The reality is, employers do not care, per se, about how much money you make. They really only want to know if you have realistic expectations about what this job pays.

It is important to know what you are worth and know what employers are willing to pay for someone with your skills as well as what salary you are willing to accept. Be able to justify the salary you are requesting by providing supporting examples. Next, calculate an appropriate salary range for the position based a realistic assessment of what the market will command. Review annual salary surveys published by trade magazines and associations. The American Lawyer and David J. White & Associates, Inc. Annual Salary Survey can be great resources in addition to your own networking contacts.

Understand that before interviewing candidates, employers have a predetermined budget in their mind for the salary that they would like to pay. This figure, of course, is most financially beneficial for them. Most employers have some flexibility to negotiate salary, particularly at the higher level positions but, contrary to popular belief, everything is NOT negotiable. Many employers have rigid pay systems. They try to keep salaries equitable within the organization by not paying anyone much above the norm. As the interview process progresses, the employer may consider altering the budget if impressed by a particular candidate. It may be at this point that they may ask you what your salary expectations are. You need to sense whether they are flexible and negotiate accordingly.

Because of the salary explosions, many lawyers today have unrealistic salary expectations and exaggerated notions of their worth to prospective employers. Your approach should always be employer-centered not self-centered. You must be able to describe your worth in relation to the employer's position which has already been defined. Employers do not care that you have $80,000 in school loans; they do not care that you have a mortgage and two kids in college. Those facts do not increase your worth to them.

It is important to negotiate from knowledge (about the going rate) and strength (articulating your qualifications) and not from need, greed or ego.

Most jobs come with a similar package of benefits, but this may be the place that employers have the most room to negotiate. Remember to consider additional benefits such as:

  • Health, life, dental, optical, disability and malpractice insurance
  • Insurance for dependents
  • Paid sick leave
  • Maternity/Parental leave
  • Vacation
  • Personal leave/personal days
  • Educational leave
  • Health leave to care for dependents
  • Profit sharing
  • Stock Options
  • Expense accounts for client entertaining
  • Dues to professional associations
  • Travel reimbursement
  • Fee sharing arrangements for clients generated
  • Relocation costs
  • Sabbaticals
  • Professional conference costs
  • Flextime work schedules
  • Fitness center memberships
  • Bar review courses

When a definite salary offer is made consider it for several moments before you respond, even if you are disappointed with the figure. Clarify the job responsibilities as you understand them. Focus on the high-level end requirements.

"Let me make sure I understand the responsibilities of the position. I would be expected to....Is there anything I have left out?"
(Be sure to focus them on the value of the position as it relates to you.)

Before even stating the dollar amount you are seeking, try to get the employer to reveal his range first. Ask:

  • What is the normal range in your organization for a position such as this?
  • What would the range be for someone with my qualifications?

By getting the employer to state a range first, you can than place the top of his range into the bottom of yours. For example, if the employer's range is $60,000 - $80,000, your range should be $80,000 - $100,000. Be ready to articulate why you are worth the salary you are seeking.

If you cannot get the employer to reveal a figure first, try saying:

"From my research I learned that the range for fourth year associates in this city is…”
Emphasize the level of skill and talent you bring to the table citing achievements, using statistics, comparisons, even testimonials to support your case. In other words, state your value. You need to translate the employer's benefit to paying you more money than the norm.

Throughout the negotiating process remember to constantly reinforce that you are excited about the offer and that you want to take this position, even if you are disappointed with the figure. You do not want this to be an argument, but rather a way that you can get to the place that you want to be so that you can accept the offer. Ask to think about the offer.

"I am very excited about the offer. Can you tell me what your time frame for a reply is?"

It is common professional courtesy for employers to provide candidates with some time to consider an offer.

Click Here to View the 2015 Salaries of the Top Law Firms.



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