Thursday, August 6, 2009

Advice Wanted: Negotiate Salary or Accept Offer?

Today I received my offer letter for full time employment. I officially have my offer! The annual billable requirement seems daunting but I think it's actually less than some firms. I am pleased to note that my employment terms include subsidy for a gym membership- woo hoo! Now I don't have an excuse right? (who am I kidding, I still have millions of excuses, I'm simply minus the one about the high cost of gym memberships).

Ok, so I'm hoping all of you out there who ever accepted a position for full time employment will give me some advice. The salary is ca-razy compared to what I'm used to earning --> zero. But I did expect the offer to be about 5-6K higher. Now I need to decide whether to just accept their offer or try to negotiate the salary.

Reasons to Negotiate:
First of all- what do law firms expect? They want to hire someone who will be a good lawyer right- well, I'll seem like a horrible negotiator if I simply take what they offer, right? Lawyers are expected to negotiate all the time. It's the bottom line of case management: getting a good settlement for your client. Well, I am the client here- will it look bad if I cave without a fight? Plus, I've worked for the firm for two summers, I've put in my time. I've shown them what I can do. I've already learned a lot.

Also, the job is tough and my firm has high expectations. This is mainly because the firm does only litigation. I will be a litigator and a trial lawyer. I will frequently spend extra hours at work with no additional overtime wage-yay for salary. This slightly scares me in the exciting "I'm Just About to Jump Out A Window With A Parachute, I Hope It Opens" kind of way.

Why Not to Negotiate:
Will it reflect poorly on me to throw out a counter offer? Will I seem like a high maintenance and disgruntled employee even before my start date? In reality, I AM just a first year associate and my capabilites are well below that of a trained or seasoned attorney. Will I be a drain on the firm for my first couple of months? Also, the economy sucks right now. My firm is one of the only firms actively hiring. The partners have a huge stack of resumes from qualified and experienced attorneys sitting on their desks right now- I've seen them. They don't NEED me.

Finally, I'm not good about this kind of thing. I know I'm intelligent and capable and willing to work hard, but I hate to show it. I'm confident in my abilities but the one quality I asbolutely dispise is arrogance. And I'm not very agressive when it comes to my personal needs or wants. I hate being the squeaky wheel. Negotiating will take a lot of courage and willpower. Will it make me look greedy and money hungry?

What do you think? Do I negotiate or not? Part of me feels that three years of hell, two summers of doing time and a three day bar exam entitle me to more than what they have offered. But on the other hand, it's a heck of a lot more than I'm used to earning and I can live very well off of that salary (especially in combination with my husband's). What did you do?

If I negotiate- how much higher should my counter offer be?


Anonymous said...

I think yes. You're not in a big firm environment where there is no wiggle room in starting salary right?

I also think you'd have to consider what other small firms pay first years, and I'm not sure how you find something like that out. i.e. if their salary is already competitive, it might seem a bit presumptuous to ask for a raise.

As for how much, that's hard to say without knowing how much you are making, but i would think something less than 5%... but that's just a hunch rather than actual knowledge!

good luck.....!

Soleil said...

Disclosure: I've never worked in a law firm. I've worked two different jobs in the business world, one in market research & consulting and one in investment banking.

ABSOLUTELY NEGOTIATE! They expect it. You will not look greedy or arrogant. If they're offering you $x, they probably have at least $x+$5,000 to pay you. I don't know how it works in law firms, but if it's anything like the business world, they absolutely expect you ask for more.

And if they don't want to give it to you, they won't. But you absolutely need to ask. There are way more reasons to negotiate than not to. More compelling ones too. I mean, you stand to gain more money!

I think this is why to this day men make more money than women do.

gudnuff said...

Sorry for the long comment, but this is important.

Women have a hard time standing up for their own worth, generally. As you say, they know you from two summers' worth of work and personal exposure. If your basic nature is arrogant, selfish, money-grubbing, self-centered, spoiled, entitled, etc. they would know it already, most likely. The opposite as well: they know you do not tend toward those character traits as a general rule. The one time those traits might NOT be attributed to someone is when negotiating an initial salary offer. This is your chance to give it a shot, to test your own resolve to represent your best interests. They won't hold it against you, especially if you don't act like a spoiled brat during the process (which is SO NOT you anyway!) Just act like someone who knows the implications of this agreement: if you start out at 5% less now, and if raises are based on a percentage of current salary, then a 5% or 10% raise in a year means 10% of a lesser amount. And so on and so on, throughout your life. You'll never catch up, in other words. All you have to do is tell them what you expect as a fair offer. All they have to say is no. Accept their final offer with grace. That is the most likely worst case scenario, pretty much. (These aren't irrational egomaniacs you're dealing with, right?) Trust me, the guys are NOT afraid to say what they think they're worth. If a guy can do it, why can't you?

Anonymous said...

Soleil is right on about why men make more money than women. I forget which book it was I was reading, but the author said a female principal friend of hers admitted that the male teachers made more than the female teachers. Appalled, the author asked why that was, and the principal said, "The men asked for more. The women didn't."
That said, I may be looking at my own job offer and I am afraid to negotiate because this economy is so tough. So while I can say, "You can do it," I myself feel chicken about it.

gudnuff said...

Hope CM doesn't mind, but this is so apropos that I'm sharing it here:


"I read and liked Ask for It: How Women Can Use Negotiation to Get What They Really Want, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. Their main point is that regardless of their skills at negotiation, it doesn't even occur to women to ask for things. The book is aimed at getting you to rethink what is negotiable in your life, and to ask for things that you don't necessarily think you can get. It repeatedly attributes the disparity in salary between men and women doing the same job to the fact that men are vastly more likely to negotiate their salary up front and ask for larger bonuses each year, while women often take what they can get, or negotiate up front but assume that bonuses are handed out using some objective criteria. The message resonated with me. The book had so many stories about women complaining that they were treated unfairly, when in fact the reason that men had received better treatment was that they had asked for it and the women hadn't."

word verification: bleav

Anonymous said...

i second the rec that you find out what other similar size firms in your market are paying.

also, when you do negotiate, i would phrase it as "i'd be prepared to accept today for X dollars." that way, you're not turning down the prior offer.

Anonymous said...

forgot to say - another option is to negotiate an automatic $10k bump when you pass the bar. more pressure to apss the bar, but by that point, you'll have been at the firm long enough, and they'll be committed to the higher salary.

FSD said...

This is tough, Cee. I tend to agree with Soleil and Gudnuff, but as a big firm attorney, I think there are a few things to consider first.

- You have to figure out, somehow, what similarly situated firms pay their associates. Your Career Services office at school may be a good resource for this information.

- You never know if your two summers WERE factored into the salary they offered you. (i.e., will YOU be making more than someone off the street because of your track record?)

- What type of fringe benefits, besides the gym subsidy, are they offering? (e.g., is the insurance awesome? Do they cover all of your annual bar dues, CLEs, etc? Parking?) All of these things add up to dollars and cents that you don't have to fork over, so don't overlook fringe benefits.

- Are you guaranteed annual or quarterly bonuses tied to hours or some other measurable? If not, perhaps this is where you can negotiate a little bump.

If you truly know and believe they haven't given you a fair offer, I say absolutely negotiate! Just make sure to do a little due diligence before putting your request out there because although lawyer are expected to negotiate, we shouldn't do so without full facts.

Oh, and they DO need you! Don't sell yourself short. Although they have a stack of resumes, they want you for a reason!

Good luck! Let us know what you decide and what happens.

FSD said...

By the way....congrats on the official offer! :-)

CM said...

Absolutely yes. The worst they can do is say no. They're not going to withdraw your job offer or think less of you because you negotiate. As you pointed out, they will probably have more respect for you if you negotiate.

If you expected the offer to be 5-6K higher, I'd ask for at least 10K more. FSD has a good suggestion about calling your career services office and finding out what the salary range for this job should be. If you have a close enough relationship with anybody at the firm, you may also be able to ask them. You may also be able to do some research online -- occasionally on sites like abovethelaw, people anonymously discuss their salaries and sometimes disclose their location and type of firm.

Once you have some objective measure, you'll be in a better negotiating position and you won't feel like you're being greedy -- you're just asking for what you're worth.

But on that note, DON'T feel like you're being greedy and high maintenance. Your salary is important. It will determine your future earning potential, not just at this job but possibly at subsequent jobs. And while I wish this weren't true, some people at your firm will look at your salary and think that's what you're worth.

The only way negotiating will reflect badly on you is if you ask for some wildly unrealistic number (like more than 25% out of their range) or insist on a certain number. From what you've said, I doubt you'll play inappropriate hardball, and getting some objective idea of what the salary should be will help you with a realistic number.

One more thing about an objective measure -- ask for a little MORE than that. That will give them some room to meet you partway.

I have a personal salary negotiation story that I'll post later on my blog.

Good luck! Let us know what you do.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be a contrarian, but I would say do not negotiate outside the standard in this legal market. I guess you need to know the standard for that, but I'm pretty sure these people know you have absolutely no bargaining power ... how easy would it really be for you to find another job right now?