Negotiating your starting salary part 2

Law School: The Importance of Negotiating your Starting Salary: Part 2

As a 3L or recent grad, you probably have questions about negotiating your starting salary.

In Part 1, I cover when you should and shouldn’t negotiate, the risk of the employer rescinding the offer, and what you need to know before you negotiate. So if you haven’t read Part 1 yet, click here!

Here, in part 2, I cover:

  1. How salary negotiations differ from other negotiations.
  2. The ins and outs of negotiating your starting salary.

Read on for all the details.

How Negotiating Your Starting Salary Differs from Other Negotiations

In law school, you may have taken a negotiations class, participated in a competition that involved negotiating, or otherwise been privy to some form of negotiation. While these experiences are certainly helpful, negotiating your starting salary is in a class all its own.

This is because in many cases you’ll be negotiating against your future boss. While some legal employers have Human Resources departments, many smaller companies do not. Generally, the smaller the employer, the more likely the individual making the offer will be your future boss.

And, therefore, your future boss will be the person with whom you are going to negotiate! Yikes.

So what does this mean, and why does it matter? It means that you cannot be as aggressive as you might be in other types of negotiations. In Part 1, I told a story about the student who was so aggressive during the negotiation, that the employer rescinded his offer.

I’ll say it again: the student was right to negotiate, and he was probably right about the offer being too low. But the way he handled the negotiation was inappropriate because he was far too aggressive with his future employer.

Remember, the employer is offering you the position because she is excited about you. She wants you to accept the offer and join her team.

So, How Should You Negotiate with Your Future Boss?

Instead of taking an aggressive stance, be assertive, confident, and collaborative. I’m sure you’ve previously heard that a negotiation is a compromise and that in a good negotiation everyone should walk away feeling disappointed.

This isn’t really the case here. While no one should get everything they want in this situation, your future employer and you are about to be part of a team. Neither party should walk away from the negotiation with feelings of resentment.

This means, instead of feigning (or feeling) anger or shock, be firm. Instead of appearing frustrated, be collaborative.

How to Negotiate Your Starting Salary

As discussed in Part 1, you’ll want to understand the terms of the offer, including salary, vacation time, and benefits. Once you know the parameters of the offer, you can begin to negotiate.

The best way to do this is to express sincere appreciation and excitement for the offer, and then ask for more money in a collaborative way.

You might say something along the lines of:

First, thank you very much for the offer. I am excited about the prospect of working for your company. However, I was hoping for a salary closer to [insert number here]. Is there any way we can get there?

Keep it short and simple, and make the ask with confidence

How Much Should I ask for?

That will depend on your region, the practice area, and the size of the employer, but you should always ask for a little more than you actually want.

This is because you’ll want to allow some room for the employer to meet you in the middle. If the employer expects you to negotiate, she will likely offer a salary that is less than what she offers.

Here is where research comes in. Your career office will be one of the best places to inquire about starting salaries in your region because the ABA requires your law school to track and report certain statistics for the most recent graduating class. While a student has the discretion to report her post-graduate salary, many students opt to report this number, thus providing data for future students and a great starting point for salary expectations.

What if the Employer is Unable to Move on Salary?

I generally encourage students and graduates to start with salary because it usually makes the most sense. For example, an employer is far less likely to negotiate health insurance and bonus structure because it likely offers the same policies to every attorney in the firm. Though, it is important to mention that nothing is technically off the table, especially in a collaborative negotiation.

If the employer indicates that she cannot move on salary, pay close attention to what she says? Has she indicated that there is no room for negotiation? Or has she indicated that she is unable to negotiate starting salary?

Once an employer indicates that she is finished with the negotiation, the negotiation is over. You either have to accept the offer, ask for time to consider (which is what I recommend in most cases), or walk away.

However, if the employer states only that she can’t budge on salary, inquire whether there is room for movement elsewhere.

You might state something along the lines of:

I understand that you are unable to move on the starting salary, but would you be willing to consider a signing bonus.

Signing bonuses are a lot more palatable to the employer because they are a one-time payment. On the other hand, as the employee, instead of receiving a permanent increase in your salary, the employer will only pay those monies one time.

It is valuable nonetheless, but it is a compromise.

If a signing bonus is not available, get creative. Ask about vacation time, raises, etc.

Do Employers Expect You to Negotiate Your Starting Salary?

Unfortunately, the answer is, it depends. Some employers do and some don’t. Remember, many employers don’t have special skills or training when it comes to hiring attorneys. They are trying to figure this out just like you!

I know this because I used to field a lot of employer calls in my former position. Employers frequently wanted to know how much to pay, when to hire, etc.

I often coach employers to be clear when they don’t want you to negotiate. The best practice when hiring a new grad is for the employer to clearly state when the offer is non-negotiable. I often advise employers to be very clear and say something along the lines of:

We are really excited by you, so we are offering you the full amount we have budgeted for this position. That means there is no room to negotiate any aspects of the position. And we sincerely hope you’ll take the offer.

If you hear something like this, take the employer at her word. Either accept, ask for time to consider, or walk away.

When is it bad faith to negotiate?

There are two times when it is bad faith to negotiate. First, and as I state in Part 1, you should negotiate your salary after you receive the offer and before you accept it.

It is generally bad faith to turn around and then try to negotiate the salary after you’ve already accepted the offer.

Likewise, if the employer asks you your salary expectations during the interview process, and then she meets or exceeds that number when she makes the offer, it is generally bad faith to try to negotiate your starting salary.

Of course, many situations are unique. There might be other parts of the offer that you’d like to negotiate, like vacation time. Or, during the course of the interview, you might have received an offer from another employer that surpasses the number you gave the first employer.

This is where solid judgment comes into play. And if you’ve made it this far, trust your judgment or seek counsel from someone whose advice you value!

Is it Okay to Accept on the Spot?

Absolutely! I’m not sure where the idea came from that you should never accept an offer on the spot, but “never” is a strong word. And in many situations, it is fine to accept on the spot.

Now, if you just received the offer and you need time to consider, ask for time to consider.

But if the employer has compromised and offered you a great package, and you know you want to say yes, go ahead and accept on the spot.

The employer will be glad to hear it.

Questions? Drop them in the comment box below.

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