How to Tip the Salary Scale in Your Favor When Negotiating Your Legal Job Offer

I remember my first real experience with “negotiations.” I was 18 years old and had my eyes on a used 1981 Toyota Celica. My dad went with me, taking the lead on negotiating the purchase price. It all seemed very simple to me – we told the owner the amount we were willing to pay, discussed it a bit, and very soon I was proudly driving home my new wheels.

Negotiating is a part of everyday life -- at home, at work, in relationships. But we often don’t think twice about the strategies involved.

If you’re a legal professional seeking employment -- especially if you have substantial experience and in-demand skills -- you should give more than a passing thought to salary negotiations. Too often I hear about mistakes people make at this important phase of their legal job search.

7 Essential Salary Negotiation Tips

Here are some tips to keep in mind before you start negotiating your salary and legal job offer:

  1. Prioritize what’s most important: Whether it’s salary level, healthcare benefits, retirement program, developmental work opportunities, or work/life balance perks, such as flexible working hours, direct your negotiations to the factors that are most imperative to you.

  2. Research industry-wide salaries: As you explore legal job openings, apply only to positions that complement your skills and experience and salary expectations. Research legal compensation ranges for the position you’re seeking through resources such as the U.S. Department of Labor’s “The Occupational Outlook Handbook.” And check Robert Half Legal's annual Salary Guide that features salary ranges for more than 100 legal service positions throughout North America.

  3. Communicate compensation expectations: While you shouldn’t discuss a specific salary level with your potential employer at the start of the interview process, mention your basic compensation expectations early on. For example, you can ask, “Can you explain how compensation is structured for the position?” 

  4. Negotiate salary through your recruiter: If you’re working with a recruiter, use that person, a neutral advocate, to negotiate your compensation.

  5. Be realistic: If your new employer can’t meet your salary threshold, ask about possible performance-based incentives that can be earned after the first six or 12 months on the job. You may also want to negotiate non-financial perks that are important to you.

  6. Remain positive and open-minded: As you engage in salary negotiations, be confident you’re worth the compensation you’re requesting. However, draw the line between conveying confidence and arrogance.

  7. Get it in writing: Once you’ve successfully completed your negotiations, get all the terms agreed upon in writing, including hours required per week, salary, benefits -- and any other details agreed upon.

Throughout the negotiating process, remember that your demeanor sets the tone for your employment with the organization. Being honest, open-minded and professional during the salary discussion will maximize your chances of coming to a successful agreement with your new employer.