How to Negotiate Salary and Benefits as a Female Lawyer

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Law students and young lawyers are faced with many employment considerations: what practice area to pursue, how to land a position with growth opportunity, and how to negotiate a salary and benefits package commensurate with the time and effort their career will require. Below Angela Ferrante, Senior Vice President of operations at GCG, a leading global provider of legal administration and business solutions, provides some insight into the solutions.

The concern of salary and benefit negotiation is compounded for women who, according to a 2017 report by the American Bar Association, make up more than one-third of practicing attorneys yet still do not earn as much as their male colleagues. What follows are practical recommendations to help prepare women for confident salary and benefits negotiations, applicable from their first law firm job and throughout their legal career.

Getting Started

The majority of attorneys begin their careers as first-year associates in traditional firms, where salary and benefits packages are largely consistent. While the opportunities for negotiation at this stage are marginal, an informed approach to these discussions will ensure factors such as location and cost of living are adequately addressed.

Ahead of any employment interviews – in-person or otherwise – women should research the standard salary range for first-year associates by practice area and location. Alumni associations, law school counselors, and legal publications will be valuable resources for credible information. Although there may be little room for negotiation, being uninformed or ill prepared for an initial salary negotiation may result in a woman making less than her peers, and may be left striving to close that gap later in her career.

Determine Your Strategy

The nature of law firm work – with its notoriously long hours – confronts women with work-life challenges that other careers may not. To that end, work-life balance conversations should be an integral part of ongoing salary and benefits negotiations.

Prior to annual performance reviews, it’s a good practice for women to spend some time reflecting on their priorities, including what has changed in the last year and what they’d like to see change in the next. Then, they should allow this reflection to influence their negotiation strategy. For example, a woman considering starting a family may prioritize a remote work arrangement over a pay increase, while another may want flexibility to travel. For purposes of negotiation, it’s smart to evaluate and revisit personal priorities as they evolve each year and adapt your strategy accordingly.

Track Your Worth

One of the most common mistakes women make is failing to track their contributions to the firm, both tangible and nontangible. While a lot can be gleaned from an attorney’s billable hours, those alone provide only a partial view into the value a woman brings to her law firm.

Record extracurricular activities such as pro bono cases, committee roles, summer associate events, networking engagements, speaking events, and other non-billable work that provide value to the firm, either directly in the form of new business, or indirectly in the form of stronger relationships or employee engagement. In addition to notable activities, women, especially, should diligently track their accomplishments. By nature, it can be more difficult for women to tout their own achievements, and it can be easy to forget the great endorsement you got 11 months ago, so having a list of bullet points to reference during negotiations becomes a critical asset.

Negotiation Tactics

Women should arrive to employment reviews and salary negotiations armed with their list of accomplishments, and request time to discuss each of them with the partner conducting the review. After all, male attorneys are not afraid to highlight their accomplishments, and women shouldn’t be either. Remain confident throughout the discussion by focusing on facts instead of opinion. Avoid language choices such as “I think…” and “I feel…,” opting instead for “Have you considered…” and “I have demonstrated…”

Take care not to get defensive, but rather accept constructive criticism with poise, reminding yourself that constructive criticism does not eliminate the potential for a negotiation or salary increase. Finally, consider asking how your salary – current or requested – compares with your male colleagues. While partners may be surprised by the question, even if they don’t give you a straight answer, they will be forced to contemplate it going forward.

Women – especially young lawyers – may inaccurately assume they’re being treated equitably as it relates to their earnings and benefits. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and a woman’s best advocate is always herself.

Surveys have long shown that women are uncomfortable in salary negotiations; however, a combination of research, preparation, and confidence will empower women in law to negotiate confidently, demonstrate their value, and secure the salary and benefits they deserve.

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