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Back to research & insights Published by Alex Gotch - 2 weeks ago

Negotiating a Higher Salary

Negotiating a Higher Salary

The big picture

Times have changed.

Supply and demand has changed.

Has the strategy for negotiating a higher salary adapted with the times?

In short – no. The key is still “preparation, preparation, preparation”, and knowing how to approach a salary review.

It is important to note that in an ideal world, your firm would see the value in you and empower you with a fair remuneration reflective of the times. Unfortunately, this may not always be the case. This article will hopefully provide you with a strategy to negotiate a fair remuneration for yourself – one that recognises your invaluable contribution to the firm.

Firstly, what not to do

It is tempting to think that an effective strategy is to interview with several competitor firms, secure multiple competing offers and then revert to your firm asking them to match the highest offer.

Of course, in the current market where counteroffers are prevalent, this can be effective in gaining a pay rise, however, one must consider the impact this has on the relationship between the lawyer and the firm/partner. Essentially, the firm would be “on notice” that you have “itchy feet” and would likely leave at some point in the future. Indeed, statistics show that with the potential mistrust that is created, the majority of those who are countered and end up staying, do so short term, and have left within twelve months.

Secondly, what to do

I go back to my opening gambit – “preparation, preparation, preparation”:

Billable hours: Be fully across your billable hours and your billable targets. If you are at 100% of target or above, you are in a great position to negotiate. If you are under 100% of target, have a think about what other factors would take you above that (pro-bono, BD time, mentoring etc.).

Bandings: Research what is an appropriate salary for a lawyer going up to the next level at your firm. Beacon Legal published our Salary Guide earlier this year and a copy can be obtained by contacting Chad Weerasinghe at chad.weerasinghe@beacon-legal.com.au. It is important to note that every firm differs in their bandings, so it would likely be more prudent to speak with a trusted recruiter (such as Chad) to get a “real time” appreciation of specific remuneration for you/your firm.

ZOPA: Lock in the figures based on the above, landing on a number that is within the bargaining range where you and the firm can reach a common ground – ZOPA – the Zone of Possible Agreement. In the current climate, it would be prudent to approach a negotiation with a number that is $10k more that you think is achievable. If you go in with any more than that, you run the risk of losing credibility in the negotiation and that would not necessarily assist your cause.

Justification: When asked to justify how you landed on the figure you chose, take the opportunity to draw attention to your strong performance both financially and as a contributor to the firm/culture. In my experience, lawyers sometimes shy away from highlighting their successes, but do not be shy about talking through your value in detail.

End-game: Hopefully, employing the strategy above facilitates a scenario where your firm reverts with a number that you are happy with. If, however, the firm falls short of expectations it would be prudent to consider the pros/cons of accepting a salary that may be below your worth/market rates and decide on whether it is the right time to explore other opportunities.

The bottom line

Legal Business is booming. Remuneration levels are reflective of that. Have you read our article on Record Level Legal Salaries?

A disappointing salary review is not necessarily a negative – use it as a stimulus to reassess career goals and gain a better understanding of what you are looking to achieve in the short-to-medium term. Whilst money is not necessarily everything, if a firm devalues your contribution, it is only a matter of time before the situation becomes untenable and you decide to see if the grass is really greener on the other side (more often than not, it is!).

Chad Weerasinghe
Associate Director
chad.weerasinghe@beacon-legal.com.au