Friday, April 8, 2016
Recently, I have been talking to a few of our law students about jobs, and I have also discussed job negotiations in my MBA negotiations course.
Here are a few thoughts for law students negotiating their first job. First, take the time to sit and think about what you want in a job. I know this seems simple, but far too many students simply follow their classmates in chasing the most prestigious firms without fully understanding why; those firms may or may not be a good fit, depending on your goals. Talk to a number of people who have worked in jobs you are considering, and interview them about positives and negatives. Second, you have to understand your BATNA (your best alternative to a negotiated agreement). If you only have one offer, and thus no good alternatives to that job, you will be in a very weak negotiating position. As such, it is best to uncover a good, or at least decent, second option, even if it is a job outside law, before negotiating . Third, try to find out, from faculty members or recent graduates, what items may be negotiable at the organization. At larger firms and many government agencies, it seems that salary and benefits are almost always unmovable for entry level lawyers. That said, there are still some items - like practice group and start date - which might be negotiable. Start date can actually be really important. An early start date, if it is allowed (some organizations start all their first years at once), can give you a head start and more individualized senior associate/partner attention before the rest of the class arrives. At smaller firms, salary and benefits may be negotiable. Fourth, and perhaps more important, in all your discussions be respectful. You don't want to get a reputation of being entitled before you even start with the firm, and again, you need to be realistic about your other options; this is still a buyers' market. If you fortunate enough to have multiple good offers, you can, respectfully, ask for offer improvement, but if it is your only legitimate offer, asking may not be worth the risk of them pulling the offer. Fifth, once you are in the job, I would focus on making yourself valuable, to the senior associates, partners, and eventually the clients, so that you will be in a powerful negotiating position down the road.
For more general thoughts, watch Deepak Malholtra's (Harvard Business School) talk on negotiating your job offer.