Should You Disclose Your Paralegal Salary When Applying for a New Legal Job?

salary negotiations

Q: I’m in the midst of a job search and some firms are asking for my paralegal salary requirements or salary history along with a cover letter and resume. Do I really have to give a number or disclose what I’ve been making when applying for paralegal jobs?

Money is a sticky subject, and negotiating your paralegal salary with a future employer is fraught with pitfalls. There are two ways to approach this conundrum: One, you can disclose your present paralegal salary or what you hope to earn upfront, hoping this information won’t scare away any potential legal job offers or lead you to leave money on the table. The other approach is to avoid specifics so you have more leverage to negotiate later on. Let’s examine the two approaches:

1. Be candid about your paralegal salary requirement.

Ideally, money wouldn’t even come up until after you’ve been offered the job. But look at it from the hiring managers’ perspective: They don’t want to waste time bringing someone in for interviews, only to have their top candidate decline because the salary was too low. They’re also keeping an eye on the bottom line: If they can get a great candidate for less than what they were prepared to pay, that’s more money they can spend on other needs.

Despite the perils, being open about your paralegal salary history can work to your advantage. One, you’d be following instructions, which hiring managers like to see. Two, just as you wouldn’t apply for legal jobs that paid much less than what you’re currently making, letting them know upfront what you require can automatically take you out of contention for lower-paying ones.

If you decide to reveal your salary requirement, be sure to do your research beforehand so you know about how much a paralegal with your level of experience and in your location typically makes. The Robert Half Legal Salary Guide is an excellent source of information for employment trends and salary ranges for more than 100 legal jobs. You could also fine-tune the range by plugging in your local data, including your zip code, into the Salary Calculator.

2. Don't give a history of your paralegal salary.

Potential employers are serious about application instructions. Thus, simply ignoring the part about including your current paralegal salary could immediately take you out of the running for that job. A better approach is to comply — but without being too specific. Here’s how:

  • Don’t put down one number. Instead, answer more broadly, such as giving a range or “entry-level” salary.
  • Instead of listing a below-market salary, use the situation to your advantage: “My current salary is below the market average, which is one reason I’m looking for new opportunities.”
  • Focus on the position and next steps instead of money. In your cover letter, write: “I hesitate to discuss salary until I know more about the position’s requirements and your company. However, I’d be happy to discuss wages and benefits after an interview and if I receive a job offer.”

Whichever way you decide to go, don’t disregard directions in the job post. However, there’s no need to spell out a precise paralegal salary and make demands about perks and work conditions, either. And keep in mind that misrepresenting the amount of your present or past paralegal salary is a bad career move. Not only is doing so unethical, but it could come back to haunt you when human resources does reference checks or due diligence.

For more information on negotiating your paralegal salary, refer to The Robert Half Legal Salary Guide