The Art of Salary Negotiations for Lawyers

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on March 15, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Do you ever get the feeling that your current salary isn't enough? You're not the only one. But many employees become terrified of the prospect of sitting down with their employer to negotiate higher compensation -- and with good reason. It's your livelihood you're talking about it.

But the salary negotiation process doesn't have to be a debilitating exercise. With a little preparation, you can make your best go and hopefully walk away with a little something more in your pocket.

The Art of War -- I Mean Salary Negotiations

It's no secret that I'm a minor fan of Sun Tsu's Art of War and a lot of his aphorisms have some application to the salary negotiation process.

First off, very few ventures go well when entered into blindly without a plan. This is why entrepreneurs must have a vision and a business plan in order to convince new investors to fund a venture. You want their money; and they want a return on their investment. The salary negotiation process is exactly the same thing. You want a higher salary and your employer wants the most talent for as little out-of-pocket as he can get. There are other factors too, but this is the major one.

If you're planning to ask for a higher salary from your employer, your aim will be to highlight the value you've given her, and how much it would be a bother to replace you. You can ask nicely, but the better strategy is to politely require it or you walk. This gives you the advantage of higher ground. Of course, this cannot be complete bluster: You really must have given value or your speech will sound like more bark than bite. Sure, this employer might keep you, but you might have damaged relations and that will hurt you in later battles.

Know the Battlefield

Everyone wants a bigger piece of the pie. Usually, that pie is money, though not always. Job satisfaction and fulfillment are so hard to measure we can just treat them as bonuses.

If you seek employment from another company, you should do your research beforehand in order to determine what reasonable compensation somebody else in your position should expect to make. Information is a powerful thing.

All Conflict Is Based on Deception

Information is so important in fact, that misinformation can be used to your advantage. One of the most famous lines in the Art of War reads as follows: "All warfare is based on deception." This is a broad statement, sure, but consider its application to the negotiation process.

Your goal is to get the most compensation, and the prospective employer's is to make the smallest hit on his expenditure sheet, ceteris paribus. If you reveal willingly how much you currently make, you've given your opponent information about your current state. Now, no matter how much your talent or experience might justify a $100,000 salary, no employer will agree to double a $50,000 base salary. Barring pigs flying, it's not going to happen. At least, not in law. This goes back to knowing the terrain of your battlefield.

Your goal is to get the company to reveal information first. Now, your interviewer has done this a lot more than you, so be careful. If she asks what you currently make, remember to skirt the question and pump it up. Include everything: base, benefits, options, retirement, the works. Make the employer know that she's dealing with someone who expects good things. You may think you're sounding pompous, and you probably are, but she's probably already seen all kinds.

And then there is enthusiasm. Not all aspects of the inherent conflict of salary negotiations must be so obviously confrontational. Communicate to the interviewer your enthusiasm and your zeal. If you were particularly valuable for another company, spell it out for them. It helps if you genuinely felt that you were actually exemplary in a particular role because it won't feel so awkward as you sit there kissing your own butt while the interviewer watches.

In the end, an interviewer is going to like a candidate that engages them and makes them feel like there's a future for both of them. You should also remember to keep things civil and cordial. If salary interview and negotiation is for a new job, don't badmouth the previous employer if you can help it. Say something like, "it's time to move one," -- that'll be loud and clear enough. Smile, keep your back straight, say thank you, and leave.

You're Psyching Yourself Out

It is perfectly natural to feel nervous about the interviewing process. If you didn't feel nervous about the interview process, congratulations, you're possibly blessed as a sociopath. For the rest of us, take solace in knowing you've already passed a major hurtle -- sitting down with the employer. And get crackin'. As it is said in the Art of War, "There may be stupid haste in war, but cleverness has never been associated with long delays."

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