Legal Career Advice: Salary Negotiation Tips You Can Use

While lawyers are frequently known for their negotiation skills in client matters, not all attorneys consider using them during salary discussions. Whether you're landing your first job or pursuing employment at a new firm with 10 years of experience under your belt, showcasing the value you can add to an organization should be your top priority when entering salary negotiations.

Here are some salary negotiation tips designed for lawyers at various stages in their careers.

Salary Negotiation Tips

1. Research salaries. During the job application process, candidates are likely to encounter a request for a salary history or be asked to give their salary requirements. Before you reveal your salary history or expectations, research the average annual salary range for the position for which you're applying. Reach out to a connection in your practice area, whether it's a mentor or a peer in a similar role.

Also, consult salary guides that offer compensation projections for a variety of positions in the legal field. Salary calculators can help you tailor national salary ranges to your geographic location.

By knowing the salary trends for your desired position and years of experience, you can create a realistic starting point and also be aware how high you may want to go when discussing salary with a hiring firm.

2. Know your worth. As you enter into salary negotiations, be prepared to cite your key strengths that you believe warrant a higher salary -- for example, your years of experience in a niche area of law, the number of clients you brought to your firm last year or how much money you saved a company through your contributions to its legal department. If you've made a mid-career course change to enter the field of law, point this out. For instance, having numerous years of experience as a Certified Public Accountant prior to becoming an attorney will be invaluable to a tax law firm. If you're a recent law school graduate, it's important to determine how your education, unique skills and qualifications factor into salary negotiations.

3. Ask the right questions. Before going straight into negotiating a salary, ask the employer how they determined their initial salary offer -- this information can open up a discussion about what fair compensation means to both parties. In discussing compensation for the position, you should consider asking about the organization’s bonus structure -- whether you will be eligible for an annual bonus and if so, how are bonuses determined. Ask also about your potential for growth within the law firm or company.

Preparing in advance for salary negotiations will ensure that you're fairly compensated for your hard work now and in the future. 

For more information on salary ranges for legal jobs, download a complimentary copy of the Robert Half Legal 2014 Salary Guide.