LAW FIRM INTERVIEW vol.5 // 7 Things You Should Say When Negotiating Your Salary


LAW FIRM INTERVIEW vol. 5 .5Salary negotiation is always a challenging and tricky game. It’s not only intimidating for young grads starting their legal  careers but also for experienced professionals pursuing employment at a new law firm. Any how-to on salary negotiation will advise you to use your skills and experience as leverage. So, how do you make a strong case for yourself? Learn the salary negotiation tactics for lawyers and other legal professionals!

Whether you’re new to job-hunting or a seasoned pro, whether you love the art of salary negotiation or dread it, the truth is that knowing salary negotiation tactics — and avoiding salary negotiation landmines — are key to obtaining the job offer you seek and deserve.

We have already outlined what not to say in your salary negotiation (check LAW FIRM INTERVIEW vol.4 // 11 Things You Should Never Say When Negotiating Your Salary). Here’s the list of things you should say and actions you should take during salary discussions to make sure to get the highest possible compensation for the value you bring to your new legal job:

1.     Setting the Number

Information is the key to any kind of negotiation and a common mistake job-seekers make is telling the employer what you’ll accept. Sometimes it is hard not to offer this information — especially if the employer asks for a salary history or salary requirement. Some employers will also ask what salary you’re looking for. In all these situations, you need to carefully decide how you’ll handle the situation. The earlier you give up this kind of information, the less room you’ll have for negotiating a better offer when the time arrives.

The cardinal rule is never to throw out the first number. Always try to remain as noncommittal as possible when asked about your salary requirements too early in the interview process. See if you can push or delay the salary discussion until after you’ve secured the position and proven yourself valuable to the company

If the interviewer pushes you to set the number, try to reply as follows:

I’d hesitate to give a specific figure until I have a better understanding of the job description and your expectations for the position …”.

or

“I’m honestly not comfortable discussing money right now because I don’t want to box myself in prematurely … First, I’d like to know a little more about the position and what it’s like working at your firm …”

This way you can shift the focus away from the salary to the topic of the job fit. However, the best possible thing you can do at this point it to put the burden on the employer. You want them to name a figure first. This prevents you from naming a sum lower than they had been willing to pay, or a sum that is too high. To achieve that you can:

  • ask what the typical range is for others in the company with that position
  • ask what they had budgeted for that job
  • say you will consider any reasonable offer
  • say that they are better informed to determine how much you are worth to the company than yourself
  • ask the what the market data says the job is worth

e.g.

“My salary requirements are negotiable … I’m interested in finding the right opportunity and I’ll be open to any fair offer when I do … What’s your salary range for this position?”

All of these statements turn the situation around politely. It puts the potential employer in the position of naming a range first. If they counter, simply move on to the next statement. More than likely, they will return the question back to you no more than three times before they state a salary range.

If you find this too difficult or awkward, consider providing a broad range based on the research on local legal salaries you have to do in advance (there’s a variety of salary resources available online — from salary.com, payscale.com and salaryexpert.com to professional associations) and say you expect “a fair total pay package for the job and my unique set of skills, including….”.

You can also answer as follows:

“I believe that the range for this position in the New York area is                       With my credentials and this job profile, I would think that a salary of $                         , at the higher end of that range, would be appropriate …”

2.     Speaking of the Whole Package

As the bargaining continues, look beyond salary. Consider the total package before making a decision. At times, you may find that there are tradeoffs making it palatable to accept a lower salary. Be sure to factor in the added value of such items as a generous benefits package, the promise of a review in six months leading to a substantial increase in salary for outstanding job performance, and the opportunity for growth and rewards as you progress in your career.

Most importantly, do not decline the job in haste if the initial offer of the base salary seems low. Rather, take this as a clue to negotiate for other forms of remuneration. In some situations, it might make sense to trade a lower salary for a company car, more vacation time, flexible working hours, or child-care benefits. You need to figure out what “perks” matter to you the most and whether or not your potential employer is willing to provide them.

Weigh carefully the value of a medical, dental, and full optical benefits package. Look at vacation time, moving allowance, and signing bonus. It’s not typical for entry-level employees to be offered all of these, but it’s important to know if any are not included, as you may be able to negotiate these into your offer. Plus, moving bonuses are definitely worth bringing up if you’re moving to a new city.

Another factor to consider in assessing the offer is the frequency of reviews. A position that pays a premium salary, but is reviewed only annually – if at all – may not be as good a deal as a law job starting with a lower salary, but where the associate’s work is reviewed two or three times in the first year. This offers the opportunity to negotiate salary increments based on performance. You can say:

“I would be willing to accept your offer if my salary is reviewed in six months”.

3.     Requesting the Time

If you have played your cards correctly up until this point, your potential employer will have made you an offer and initiated the salary issue by telling you the salary the employer plans to pay. When you receive an offer ask for time to consider the offer before accepting. Say that you need time to run it past your financial advisor or discuss it with your spouse. You can also say:

“Thank you so much! I am very enthusiastic about the position and your firm and greatly appreciate the offer. However, I need time to think things over before I make a final commitment. Would it be ok if I took a few days to think it over?”

Most employers are willing to give you some time to contemplate the job offer — typically several days to a week. It’s when you get the job offer that you have the most power because the employer has chosen you, so use that power to be certain it’s the job and job offer for you — and consider negotiating for a better offer if you feel that it should be better. Just remember that whatever amount of time you ask for is the amount of time you have to make your decision.

4.     Making a Counteroffer

When the potential employer finally made you an offer the ball is on your court. A salary offer is a window of opportunity. Most employers, except law firms with lock-step compensation systems, expect a counteroffer.

When you have the offer in hand and have waited a few days, call back and express your enthusiasm and appreciation for the offer with words that contain praise for the company or firm, but are also a request for a higher figure, or some additional perk. The simple formula is: “I like A … I like B … I like C … However …”

e.g.

“Mr. Smith, I deeply appreciate your offer … This is the kind of position I’m been seeking … I’m impressed with the quality of people at your firm, I like the idea of working with Mrs. Johnson … and the benefits package is excellent … However … I was thinking that with my experience and the job profile a figure of $                   would more appropriate.”

“However … the offer is lower than I anticipated … as we discussed in the interview, I have extensive experience in litigating the very kinds of cases you are getting flooded with … perhaps we should consider a one time signing bonus of $                    .”

“However … the offer is lower than I anticipated … especially as I did not understand until the interview that I would be responsible for training new attorneys as well as handling regular deal flow … I propose either a higher salary of $                   instead of $                   or, alternatively, the opportunity to work from home two days a week”

Propose your number as a counteroffer and back it up by communicating your unique strengths and potential. Remember that it is imperative to always keep a friendly tone, and base your arguments on objective facts, not your particular needs or desires. You can go far by asking probing questions with a smile on your face. In the course of your discussion you might use statements and questions like these:

“You know, I’m excited about doing this job, and I’d love to work here. But I’m curious if you could explain the basis of why you’re offering $                   ?”

If they can’t come up with anything compelling, this is when you bring your research to the fore:

“I know that you’ve had the opportunity to review many resumes and interview other candidates. I’m really flattered and thrilled that you think I’m a better fit than my competition. Given all that, I’ve been looking to figure out what a fair level of compensation would be. Salary survey ‘such and such’ suggests that there is a range of $                   to $                   for this kind of work in this geographic area, with an average of $                   . I’m sure you and I agree at this point that I’m far better than average at doing this work. Wouldn’t it be fair to expect compensation that would reflect that shared judgment?

If you decide to make a counter proposal, remember that you should only pick the one or two most important elements; you can’t negotiate every aspect of the offer. If the salary is too low, focus on that aspect in a counteroffer. If you know the firm will not negotiate on salary, then focus on modifying a few of the other terms of the offer (such as additional vacation time, earlier performance reviews, signing bonus, relocation expenses). Just remember that you cannot attempt to negotiate the entire offer; you need to choose your one or two battles carefully, conduct your research, and write a short counter proposal.

5.     Keeping quiet

While it may be stressful to wait for an answer after you’ve made your pitch for a higher salary, staying quiet and confident as you wait can be more effective than nervously chattering on or following up too soon. Don’t keep talking after your ask. Less is more. Don’t fill in the silence and let the manager do that.

Once you put out a number you think is fair, wait. If you’re too eager to hear back and bug them with other offers, this makes you look weak. Don’t let statements like ‘well maybe they didn’t get my email’ or ‘I should go a little lower’ enter your mind.

If you put these strategies to work at the negotiating stage, you’ll have a better chance of earning what you’re worth from the get-go – which can make a big difference over the course of your career. The data shows in the vast majority of cases people who negotiate for a higher salary get one, male or female. The odds are high that if you ask, you’ll get and silence can definitely be your weapon.

6.     Asking for Things

If you’re going to ask for something, be prepared to explain what you want, why you want it, and if possible, how it will benefit the company.

e.g.:

“I’d like to start on                        instead of the                       as I would benefit from some extra moving time and then be able to start with all of my energy focused on learning the job.”

If you’re going to ask for more money, don’t assume that saying their offer is lower than the average will work. Compliment your research with an explanation of what you want and why. Use the salary resources available online (e.g. salary.com, payscale.com, salaryexpert.com) for detailed insight into how this offer compares to similar ones. This will allow you to justify your rationale for a higher salary. It is important to be data driven when negotiating.

Be thoughtful about what you ask. Ground your requests in facts. Be ambitious, but realistic, especially when it comes to numbers, and always back up your request with data about the company, the job title and the role’s responsibilities – not second-hand knowledge you’ve heard from friends or family.

7. Accepting / Declining

At some point, you’re going to either have to accept or decline. So, after you make the decision about which offer to accept and which to leave behind, it’s in your best interest to do everything you can to maintain the relationships all around. By taking this approach, you can build your personal brand in the eyes of the professionals rather than burning bridges that would be incredibly hard to rebuild.

Whether you received an initial offer that met all of your needs with a company or effectively negotiated for the terms you needed from the company, it’s time to officially accept the offer. At the most basic level, you will want to sign the offer letter that contains the most up to date terms of employment based on any negotiations you may have done.

In addition, you should call your main point of contact to tell them you have accepted your offer and that they can expect it in the mail. When you speak to them, say something like the following:

“Hi,                   , this is                         and I am calling to formally accept my offer to join                      . I have signed and mailed/emailed my offer letter and you can expect to receive it within the week. Is there anything else I need to do to help you move the process along at this point?”

The next thing to do is to inform anyone else who has played a part in your hiring process at the organization. Let them know that you have accepted and that you appreciate their help along the way. In your thank you letter, include something like the following:

“I am excited to tell you that I have accepted my offer to join                       as a                          . Without your help during the recruitment and hiring process, I would not have had such a great experience or learned so much about the company. Thank you very much for your guidance and support, and I look forward to working with you in the future.”

Declining a job offer can be a little uncomfortable for both sides so it’s important to be graceful and courteous. You want to keep your options open, avoid burning bridges, and to leave a great impression all at the same time. It’s important to thank the hiring manager for the offer and for and his or her time and be brief but honest about your specific reason for not accepting the position.

e.g.:

“Thank you so much for the offer for the                         position. I so appreciate you taking the time to consider me and for answering so many of my questions about the company and role. While this position seems like a great opportunity, I have decided to pursue another role that will offer me more opportunities to pursue my interests in marketing and social media. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you, and I hope that we cross paths in the future. Again, thank you for your time and support, and I wish you all the best.”

Whether you accept or decline a job offer show either positive enthusiasm or that you’re grateful for the offer. If it’s not going to work for you, it’s not going to work for you. Bow out with grace. You don’t want to close off an opportunity for them to come back with another offer.

Learning the language of salary negotiation can be tricky even for lawyers, but it’s vital for success. Jobsfor.lawyer can help you get paid fairly for what you do in legal profession. Following the advice in this article — and using other proven job-hunting and salary negotiation tactics for legal professionals— should result in a new job and job offer that is just what you were seeking.

For help with any question Legal Job Interview may pose stay tuned for The Law Firm Interview — a series exploring all aspects of the legal job interview process:

LAW FIRM INTERVIEW vol.1 // 7 Things To Do Before Your Legal Job Interview

LAW FIRM INTERVIEW vol.2 // 8 Tips to Ace Your Initial Legal Job Interview

LAW FIRM INTERVIEW vol.3 // 10 Tricks for Nailing Phone Interview

LAW FIRM INTERVIEW vol.4 // 6 things never to say when negotiating salary

LAW FIRM INTERVIEW vol.5 // 7 Things You Should Say When Negotiating Your Salary



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