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3 mistakes costing lawyers a pay rise

There are a handful of errors that legal professionals make that impede their ability to successfully negotiate the salary bump they are seeking, writes Shevonne Joyce.

user iconShevonne Joyce 01 November 2022 Careers
3 mistakes costing lawyers a pay rise
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Everyone wants to know the secrets of successfully negotiating a fair pay rise. After all, it’s natural to desire feeling valued and appropriately rewarded for your efforts. Yet, for so long we have been told money is a dirty word and not to be discussed, when in fact, money is simply an exchange of value.

It’s important that we have healthy discussions about it and understand how to negotiate for what we are worth. While it’s undeniable that some organisations have practices that lack transparency or fairness, on many occasions, the value an employee delivers that warrants a pay rise can be simply lost in translation.

While this is not an exhaustive list of all the reasons that prevent employees from being able to successfully negotiate the kind of pay rise they want, these three common mistakes can dilute the chance of success. Understanding and avoiding these pitfalls can empower you to think differently about money and have constructive conversations about value.


People try to negotiate salary on promises

Negotiating a pay rise based on the promise of doing certain things in future doesn’t give your employer any certainty — it’s asking them to take a gamble on you.

While you may be a terrific performer who has had some great results on the board in previous roles or organisations, the reality remains that anyone can say they are the master of anything, and ultimately believe that to be true.

But negotiating remuneration or pay rises on promises (even with prior proven results) is kind of like trying to save a sinking boat with a sieve. It is much more fruitful to discuss pay rises on results and delivery — evidence that can’t be refuted, value that’s already on the table.

Anyone who is truly confident in their ability to integrate, adapt, identify key performance markers and deliver, will also be confident to meet an employer where they are salary wise (within market expectations) and demonstrate their value before talking shop.

Misfiring achievements and results

What happens here is that employees go ahead and achieve lots of super cool stuff; but when they go in for a pay rise, their manager’s response is, “cool, bro” and the employee is left a little bewildered. What happened?

Simply put, there wasn’t goal alignment. In other words, what the employee thought was important didn’t align to their manager or organisation’s idea of success. This mistake is twofold; an organisation lacking effective infrastructure for clearly defining higher value tasks and prioritising goals, and the employee not ensuring they get clear on a mutual idea of success. Don’t be afraid to demonstrate personal leadership in this regard and facilitate defining goals with your manager if necessary.

For example, saying, “To ensure that I am clear on our priorities and goals, and focusing my attention where it’s really important to our strategic objectives, could we sit down and talk about what success looks like for this month/quarter?” They’ll probably be so impressed by your commercial acumen; you’ll blow their socks off.

The key here is identifying meaningful performance markers — that is, what is important to THEM for you to achieve? Defining that will shape the strategy for where you focus your efforts and energy.

If there are other KPIs that you truly, and commercially, see as of high value that they are not considering, show them a business case on that. Have that discussion upfront and come to an agreement.

Not considering the business context

This happens when employees have an ‘employee mindset’, which means: “I come to work, I do this job description well, I get paid, and I go home, repeat.” At the end of the day, we are a human asset with skills, talents, experience, and knowledge that feeds into a bigger engine that drives business success.

Being aware of, and understanding, how what you’re doing fits into the broader business context is essential for excelling. Equally, understanding what’s going on in the wider world can help shape the focus of your role and give you a good understanding of the perfect time to discuss your pay rise. For example, if the business has had a few hard months financially, or is going through significant change and things are a bit turbulent, now is not the ideal time to ask for a pay rise.

Key questions to ask yourself — how can you add value beyond your job description, and what value are you adding in the broader business context? How does what you’re doing align to the strategic objectives of the organisation? What is the current climate, the wins, the pain points, competitive advantages, risks, and what role can you play in helping your team and organisation navigate that?

Looking at your contribution more broadly and being strategic about higher value delivery will demonstrate your business value, not just your job function value.

Shevonne Joyce is the head of people and culture at Legalite. 

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