Friday, April 8, 2016

Negotiation and Law Jobs

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.

Haskell Murray, Law School, Negotiation | Permalink


Great advice Haskell. As you point out, the preparation phase is vital and most people erroneously assume that great negotiations is about aggressively listing demands. That is often a very bad approach that gets limited or negative results. Listening and asking questions are key, as you point out. I'd also mention that the communication medium is key, and may be overlooked by those who grew up using smart devices. Email or texting are terrible since they show a lack of respect and any context is lost, opening up the risk of misunderstandings. Face-to-face negotiations is best. If that isn't feasible, then skyping or using some other video conference technology would be second best. If that's not an option than a phone call would be better than e-mail or texting.

Posted by: David Orozco | Apr 8, 2016 9:35:58 AM

Excellent point, David. Many of us in the academic world heard of the professor who lost a tenure track job offer after e-mailing a list of demands:

I doubt the offer would have been pulled if she had negotiated in person, or even over the phone. At the very least, she would have seen or heard that they were not interested in negotiating and could have stopped early in her list.

E-mail does, however, have the advantage of being clear and memorializing the discussion. Because of this, I sometimes write out my thoughts before a negotiation. Also, I sometimes follow up a face-to-face negotiation with an e-mail summarizing the agreed to items. You have to be careful with the follow-up e-mails though. You don't want to suggest you do not trust them or look like you are trying to skew the negotiated points in your favor. I usually start with something like - "my memory isn't what it once was, so I thought it might be useful to summarize our discussion from earlier today...." and end with something like - "if I misstated any of the above, please feel free to clarify."

Posted by: Haskell Murray | Apr 8, 2016 11:44:21 AM

I would strongly consider "outside law" corporate jobs as you indicated, even if they aren't "legal" jobs. As opportunities, money and growth move in-house, I think new lawyers would be short-sighted to focus solely on law firms. Of course, that is where the initial salary money is--but not necessarily the future. Lots to consider!

Posted by: Marcos Antonio Mendoza | Apr 8, 2016 8:37:46 PM

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