Negotiating your contract



Negotiating your contract 


By: LSJ Edit team | 3 February 2013

For most people, negotiating a new employment contract holds little appeal, especially because the potential of getting it wrong means putting your future employer offside before you’ve even started. However, unless you’re a summer clerk or graduate solicitor, law firms and other employers will usually expect you to negotiate; they just want you to go about it the right way.

Here are some tips for negotiating a better job offer.

Know the market 

Most of us feel uncomfortable when it comes to asking for more money, but that’s exactly what you’re going to have to do.

When it comes to negotiating salary you need to have a “ballpark" figure of what you’re worth; the best place to find that is by reference to what the market is paying. While law firms and other legal employers generally like to keep a dignified silence about how much they pay, their employees often aren’t so shy and will often happily (if not always accurately) reveal their pay to recruiters and other sources for salary guides. So check out large recruitment companies and Roll on Friday as a start.

The laws of supply and demand

What the salary guides reveal is that, the more experienced solicitors become, the greater the divergence in salary – and that also means more chance to negotiate. To get the best deal you will need to come up with a business case as to why you’re worth it.

That’s why you should always go into salary negotiations knowing exactly what your potential employer needs and what you bring to the table to fill this void. 

Do you have particular experience in areas of work that the firm is looking to build up? Are you a particularly “good biller”? Are your existing clients likely to follow you (without you needing to breach any confidentiality agreement or non-compete) so that you can help build the practice right from the outset? Anything that increases your value in this way can be used to leverage your position when the time comes to bargain. Generally, the fewer people with your particular skills, the more money you will be able to command.

Don't blink first

You may be tempted to talk salary early on in negotiations. Don’t.

Many interviewers will try to use upfront talk about salary as a technique of weeding out people they can’t afford. But if you blurt out your expectations too early in the piece, you’re likely to give the impression that money is your primary motivator.

Besides, if you’re able to use the interview to prove exactly how valuable you’ll be to the organisation, the employer may be willing to meet your salary demands despite any initial reservations.

Negotiate based on performance

If your prospective employer won’t meet you on price up front you may be able to negotiate future pay increases and bonuses based on performance. This can be an especially effective technique where the practice is looking to grow and you’re the one to grow it.

If you do go down this path, make sure you nail any agreement down in writing. As Forbes puts it:

You could start by saying, “Let’s talk about specific, measurable results that would improve your bottom line and increase my earnings.” Get any incentive pay agreements in writing during the hiring stage so your employer is committed to following through.

Think beyond salary

For many people, negotiating a new position starts and ends with salary: get offered enough and they’ll take the job; get offered too little and they won’t. It should go without saying that the money shouldn’t be the only the factor you take into consideration. Ask yourself where the role fits within your overall career plan: is it worth accepting less pay simply to get the right kind of experience? What is the likelihood of progression? What is the employer’s culture like and how well do you gel with the people you’ll be working with?

You should also take into account the lifestyle elements of any offer. For instance, will there be the chance for flexible working or could you negotiate extra leave? Many employers, especially larger ones, are restricted in what they can pay by salary bands, which means they often have more room to move with non-financial benefits than they do with salary.

Finally, you should think about what will happen at the end of the employment relationship. What’s your notice period? Does the contract of employment have a restraint and how will this affect any career move down the track?

Before you sign anything it’s a good idea to have an employment lawyer look over your contract.

Be prepared to walk away

When the job market is tight it is often tempting to see a poor job offer through rose-coloured glasses. If, for financial reasons, you really need to take a job you wouldn’t otherwise, you could see if an employer would be open to a short-term contract so that both sides can “test the waters”. (Although employers are less likely to accept this sort of arrangement in a tight employment market.)

There will be times when you decide that a job you once wanted simply isn’t going to work. If that’s the case, you should let the business know as soon as possible.

The last thing you want is for the company to think you played them.

It’s simply not in anyone’s interests to continue negotiating for a job you simply don’t want.