Find out as much comparable salary information as you can. For private practice, you are looking at firms of a similar size, location, area of practice and with similar billable unit expectations. For in-house, you are looking at companies of a similar size, industry sector and location.
A good place to start is with legal salary surveys. They usually set out average salary ranges for in-house and private practice lawyers based on years of experience. We, as well as other companies, provide salary surveys and other market information that you can freely access on our website. You can also research salary ranges for legal roles advertised on careers websites such as SEEK. Word of mouth is only as reliable as your source.
If you are negotiating your salary for your existing role (for example, at a review meeting), prepare for the conversation by putting together a business case with evidence of your success. Most organisations will have objective criteria against which you can assess yourself. Document all of your contributions to billable hours, pro bono work, marketing, client relationships, training and other areas, such as cost savings to the business. Compile a ‘brag file’, a collection of positive feedback from clients, internal stakeholders and colleagues, to support your business case.
If you are negotiating your salary for a new role there is a benefit in using a recruiter as they are able to assist you with the negotiation process and will be fully briefed on the salary bracket for the role. They will usually have an established relationship with the client and be able to highlight your value. We have found that clients tend to present their best offer first up to their preferred candidate to foster goodwill from the outset. It is important to remember that, while you should ensure you get paid what you are worth, money is rarely the sole reason for wanting to move into a new role.
With all negotiations go in knowing the maximum (dream) salary you could receive, the minimum you are prepared to accept and the realistic salary you can expect to achieve. If you achieve your dream salary then that is great! Make sure you get it in writing.
However, if there are legitimate reasons why your salary cannot be increased, such as poor economic conditions in the market, then you may need to think outside the square. Consider the value of non-monetary incentives. Perhaps you could ask for phone and laptop packaging, additional leave, a car allowance, subsidised gym membership and further education and training to enhance your skills. Also take into account the benefit of work-life balance that can come from moving in-house or to a smaller firm. For some, it’s priceless.