We're accepting the meh lawyer salary - but what else to negotiate?
January 25, 2012 7:03 PM   Subscribe

My significant other got a full-time job offer from the small law firm they've been working at part time. Yay! But the salary offer is just meh. What other perks should we be asking for?

My SO has been working at minimum wage, 15-20 hours a week, for a small firm in NYC for the past several months. After months of sending out resumes, my SO recently began interviewing for entry-level lawyer positions, and the small firm has responded by offering a full-time gig, with 2 weeks vacation and the standard holidays off. The salary is on the low side, but not out-and-out insulting, in this still pretty tough job market.

My SO graduated 10 months ago from a lower-tier school, in the bottom half of the class, passed the bar in the summer (in the 80th percentile) and has decent internships and good grades in the classes applicable to this field. But interviews have been few and far between, especially for good experience, which this firm offers.

My SO is learning a lot from this position, and we're both leaning towards taking the gig, but what else can we attempt to negotiate in this deal? A cut of new business generated? The freedom to take unpaid vacation time? A 4-day workweek? What are we not considering? It's an extremely laid-back office environment, so feel free to get a little creative.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (33 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Get another week of vacation, seriously. Maybe a gym membership could be a nice perk as well.
posted by straight_razor at 7:05 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wow, I think many people are about to chime in and say be grateful for the job. Maybe in time ask for more perks but right now your SO is very lucky to get a job in his/her chosen field.
posted by bquarters at 7:06 PM on January 25, 2012 [8 favorites]

Wow, I think many people are about to chime in and say be grateful for the job. Maybe in time ask for more perks but right now your SO is very lucky to get a job in his/her chosen field.

This. I own and run a small office, and the salary is low because revenues are low. Asking for additional paid vacation time is basically asking for a raise in reverse. Sure, he can ask, but be prepared for the partners to be annoyed by his request. And the "cut of new business generated," if offered, should be in return for a lower salary than he's been offered ... since that "new business" is what's going to be paying his salary.

In an economy when many HIGHER TIER law grads are unemployed, he should be very grateful to have an offer.
posted by jayder at 7:14 PM on January 25, 2012 [8 favorites]

Nope, I think a lot of people are going to chime in and answer the question. I don't see a law firm, of all places, being offended by someone trying to negotiate a better deal.

Maybe telecommute one or two days a week? Don't know if lawyers do that, but it's my #1 choice of perk, always.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:15 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ask for an extra week of vacation. When they say no, take the job anyway.
posted by decathecting at 7:20 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

if there are different tiers of health insurance (assuming they offer health insurance), ask for the better/best plan. when they say no, take the job anyway.
posted by facetious at 7:25 PM on January 25, 2012

Following up on my initial comment, and being that I interview and hire regularly I always advise trying to negotiate to anyone looking to start their career. Even if you're not successful it takes rocks and says volumes about you as a confident capable employee. Regardless of the job market, good talent is always hard to find. Highly unlikely they'll rescind the job offer, worst they can say is no.

The ability to negotiate and be confident seems particularly of note in the law profession.
posted by straight_razor at 7:28 PM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've been on the hunt in a similarly difficult market (LA) for several months now, and I would be ELATED to score even the entry-level part time gig. I'd honestly just take the offer. If you want to negotiate, prepare for them to say no and then take the offer anyway.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 7:30 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Good talent" is not at all hard to find, when the talent is entry level lawyers in NYC. "Dime a dozen" doesn't even begin to describe it. You are unbelievably lucky that he has gotten this offer with the credentials you describe. He should make his first priority showing his appreciation and adding value, not trying to nickel and dime the people who have built the business.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:36 PM on January 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

I would suggest *not* asking for a cut of any business she generates, simply because that is contrary to the very entrenched way of doing business in the profession.

Otherwise, if she can get the firm to cover: Licensing/Bar/ARDC dues, CLE costs and memberships in bar associations, that would be a really nice perk for someone early in her career.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:39 PM on January 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

I totally disagree with those who are saying just take the job and be grateful. This is an attitude of fear and scarcity that is not good for one's happiness, nor productivity. It is also expected (at least in all industries I am familiar with, and I find it hard to believe that law would be different) that the new hire negotiate their compensation package, and therefore most employers start on the low side, expecting to negotiate up at least somewhat.

Unless your SO asks for something outrageous, I find it hard to imagine that s/he will lose the job by trying to negotiate. Isn't negotiation high on the list of skills lawyers should have? Isn't confidence--or at least the appearance of confidence--high on the list of attributes of a good lawyer?

If your SO is afraid to ask for more money (and even if s/he's not): I second the idea of telecommute 1-2 days a week. It doesn't cost the employer anything, while saving your SO commute money (and possibly dry-cleaning fees as well). Flexible schedule also might be possible (beat rush hour by coming in at 10 and leaving at 7?).

Your SO also might want to ask for a review after 6 months rather than a year. S/he could prepare the employer for this now, by saying he understands that the economy/the industry does not allow for a higher salary at this time, but could we revisit this in 6 months?

Extra vacation time might not be the message to send right now ("Oh, yes, I'm very excited to be working here but hey when can I take a vacation?")
posted by parrot_person at 7:45 PM on January 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

Your SO also might want to ask for a review after 6 months rather than a year. S/he could prepare the employer for this now, by saying he understands that the economy/the industry does not allow for a higher salary at this time, but could we revisit this in 6 months?

This. Say "I totally get why my salary is on the lower side right now, but I'm prepared to prove my worth to this company. I'd like to be considered for a raise after 6 months based on performance".
posted by pyro979 at 7:48 PM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Even in this economy it is reasonable to ask for CLEs and state and local (if applicable) bar dues. Even though my bar dues aren't that much in the scheme of things, it's still a nasty bill to pay every July and it is wonderful to have my employer pick up the tab. I don't know how NY does its CLE requirements for young attorney, but my state requires four classes that are ~$160 each within the first three years. If your salary is smallish and your loans are big, $160 is a terrible amount to have to drop on something that is essentially torture.
posted by gatorae at 7:56 PM on January 25, 2012

Congratulations to him on his first legal job!

FWIW, he can go ahead and ask for another week's vacation, but if he's going to bill hours, this doesn't mean a whole lot. If you have an acceptable number of billables at the end of the year, no one's going to care if you had three weeks of vacation or two. But if you're really lagging on the billables, it's not going to do much good to be like, "Oh...uh...but I wasn't billing because I was on vacation, remember?"

So, ask for an extra week's vacation by all means, but understand that actually *taking* that extra week might be a little tricky. One interesting way to approach this, though, might be to consider negotiating for a lower billable hours requirement. And this might sound like total crazytalk, but what if he were to pair this proposal with a salary cut of a few thousand bucks? Billing hours is a total, total, total, total grind. If he can in any way reduce the hours he's required to bill and make it easier and more comfortable to take time off, this is a total quality of life win. And maybe that's something this firm would be willing to do right now.

I think asking for a cut of new business would be kind of ridiculous, personally. The best time to negotiate for that is when you are in a position to actually bring business into the firm.

Negotiating for things like state bar dues, CLE courses, ABA memberships--those are all good ideas if he's not already going to get them. But given that all of this comes right out of the firm's bottom line anyway, it might not make a practical difference. But I can see a firm perhaps being more receptive to this than to a straight up higher salary.

The telecommuting idea is interesting, but it will be really critical for him to have face time at the office when he's building relationships with people. Practicing law is totally about relationships, and his "clients" as such, when he starts out, are the partners, senior associates, and even staff members in his office. Telecommuting, if not strictly necessary, works at crosspurposes to this. It might sound great, but if he's missing out on this relationship building in his first year at the firm, he might wonder in a year or two why he's not getting the type of work or opportunities that he wishes he was getting.

Just about anything you can negotiate for is going to cost the firm money in some way, so what's the firm's incentive to give this to him? He's in a tough negotiating position because the job market favors employers so much. It's not like we can advise him to just take another job offer if he doesn't like this offer.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:02 PM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

The folks telling you to negotiate aren't in the legal business. A percentage of business brought in? Telecommuting? These are terrible suggestions. The legal market is contracting rapidly, and jobs are hard to come by; first year associates do NOT get a percentage of the "business they bring in", because they don't bring in business with any regularity or of any significance. That's what senior associates and partners do, generally. If you want a cut of firm profit, make partner.

Tell him to be grateful, to be gracious, and to take the gig.
posted by ellF at 8:08 PM on January 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

The folks telling you to negotiate aren't in the legal business

I assume that gatorae, for instance, is in the legal profession given he says his employer pays his bar dues. MoonOrb sounds like he is as well, as do others. Don't be dismissive if you can't even be bothered to read the answers you're arguing against.
posted by jacalata at 9:06 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Given a tough job market, I'd be less inclined to ask for outright perks, and more for things that will create percieved value for the firm: if I were to ask for extras in that position I'd be looking to get a seminar/conference/training course that will demonstrably benefit the firm as well as me.
posted by rodgerd at 10:07 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

[Some comments deleted. Ask Metafilter is for answering the question and offering your advice to the poster, not for debating between yourselves. Please stick to the question and address the OP.]
posted by taz (staff) at 10:34 PM on January 25, 2012

Most firms WILL cover his CLE/bar costs. He should just ask.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:49 AM on January 26, 2012

Definitely reasonable to request your bar dues and CLE. They may cover it automatically, though.
posted by freshwater at 5:41 AM on January 26, 2012

I have friends from my top 25 law school with 7-8 years of experience getting laid off (small/medium firm went bankrupt, 1st-3rd year associates getting laid off first, etc).

I don't know anything about this small firm (and what area of law might matter, I don't know), but I wouldn't try to negotiate too much. I assume she'll still be looking for more lucrative offers, but in the meantime her resume will say that she has worked for the same firm for X amount of time, with a promotion, etc. If it were me I'd just take it.
posted by Pax at 6:30 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Congratulations on landing an entry-level job in a very tough legal job market. I would base any negotiating on either (1) perks that other similar situated employees of the firm have and (2) low-cost or no-cost benefits and training.

There may not, in fact, be any similarly situated "associate" attorneys if it's a small group of guys on an eat-what-you-kill division. Or there may be a bunch of associates with a defined career track. (There are all different kinds of small firms.) Bar dues and CLEs are easy to ask for, especially if others are getting that paid for by the firm. Likewise, a firm-issued smartphone (with a paid-for data plan) or a laptop might be possible and add to quality-of-life (or not). Even if there aren't any other associates, you may still be able to slide in under the "yeah, we consider that a firm expense for everyone else, so why not".

Regarding training, this depends on how much autonomy the newly hired lawyer will have, and what kind of work is being done. Covering cattle calls at church and entering routine appearances? That's fine, but doesn't necessarily lead to developing more skills. So saying "I'd like to work with ___ on a ___ case in the future" doesn't hit the bottom line in the same way as an extra week of vacation, and it gives tangible benefits. Or even, "I'd really like to learn how to handle ____" (or draft a ____ agreement) or whatnot. They are giving the new hire a salary so there's some expectation of relative stability, but you don't want to be stuck doing scutwork for the rest of your career. So see if you can set up the jump to "beyond scutwork" by asking for training or guidance on that front.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 7:19 AM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

As Pax notes above, a lot of people with more experience and/or better credentials are out of work in today's legal market, and the fact that your SO has been temping for so long is, in my experience, something of a black eye.

If it were me, I'd just ask what other benefits they offer (i.e., don't negotiate for CLE and bar fees if that's part of the package already). Asking for a slice of firm profits seems to me equivalent to interviewing for an entry-level job at NASA and trying to negotiate for them to send you to space. It's sort of sublime in its overreaching.

As noted above, vacation time--unpaid or otherwise--is barking up the wrong tree. I have--literally--a full MONTH of vacation time, plus bank holidays, plus as much sick time as I need. Being a lawyer is not like being an office worker; you are required to bill hours. Any day I don't bill hours puts me further away from a bonus, and closer to getting fired. I don't think I've taken more than two weeks' vacation in any year since becoming a lawyer. If anything, you'd first clarify what the billing target is, whether pro bono work counts towards that (if pro bono is something SO is interested in), and what the billing increment is (which is just an FYI--much easier to hit targets when the billing is in 15 minute blocks than in 6 minute blocks). All the same, if I were interviewing someone who asked for reduced time, I'd question their commitment to sparkle motion.

A four-day work week? Seriously? Either you and SO need to re-calibrate your understanding of what a junior associate's life is in a law firm, or you need to tell us the name of the firm so the rest of us can apply.

Telecommuting is not really a big thing. As people note above, SO should be in the office; you need to network. Presumably, there will be days when SO lets the firm know he's working from home and brings home a bunch of files, etc. so he can wait for a plumber--that happens all the time, and would not be something I'd even mention in follow up discussions with the firm.

Tech: Personally, I'd never pay for my own Blackberry or my own Blackberry plan. That thing is a shackle and a constant annoyance. If they want him to have one, they should pay for it. I would not ask to be issued one if you can avoid it--really, they're horrible. (For the avoidance of doubt, it's being in constant contact with the firm, not just the Blackberry (although RIM is shit)).

At the end of the day, your SO just needs room to grow--get experience and training. Most small firms don't have training other than mentorship. Experience will come as SO proves himself.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:53 AM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm not a lawyer. I work in hiring.

I'd be wary of negotiating too much if this is the first job - there's a lack of leverage, such as experience, longevity, etc - and I think the things in the OP are kind of ridiculous for an entry-level hire, even if they've been there for a while part-time...but it's kind of hard to answer not knowing what your SO actually does there.
posted by sm1tten at 7:55 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If SO has a strong interest in a practice area the firm doesn't cover, or a strong community service ethic, or a plan for later career that requires a particular network, negotiating to have pro bono work count for billables is a great idea. However, negotiating to have pro bono count for billables is a bad idea if you don't already have a pro bono plan/commitment. asking for a perk you never use puts you in a bad negotiating position down the road and can make you look a little flaky.

I personally never worked at a small (under 8 attorneys) firm with a billable requirement, but even without a billable requirement, SO can negotiate for a monthly pro bono hours allotment, if pro bono time is important.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:24 AM on January 26, 2012

Check the health insurance, try to get it active from when you started. My husband just started a job (in a different field) with great insurance but it doesn't kick in for another 30 days and I've just cracked a tooth and it hurts. But I really wouldn't be negotiating too hard, once he gets a few years experience under his belt, and has worked his ass off for a few years then he can. Asking for extra holidays etc at the start might send the wrong message.
posted by wwax at 8:31 AM on January 26, 2012

Yeah, agreed on everyone else's thoughts. This is a tight job market, especially for lawyers, and he doesn't have good credentials given those from other schools. If this is his very first job (and it sounds like it), then i would really avoid negotiating too much. Take what is a good first offer, and work up from there.
posted by waylaid at 9:03 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

The "graduated ten months ago" part is what gets me. Negotiation is for when you're in a position where you *can* walk away. Maybe not happily, necessarily, but where losing the opportunity won't be seriously harmful to you. Ten months without full-time employment is getting further and further away from the ability get meaningful post-graduation work. Take the job now. Negotiate for better things down the road if he likes it there, wants to stay, and is performing well. I would not, ten months after graduation, do anything which had even a whisper of a chance to get the offer revoked, even if it wasn't likely. If he's got some reason that this offer isn't as vital as it sounds, then negotiate away.

(I don't see asking about bar dues/CLE as being "negotiation" as such, though, because they are pretty standard and it's totally reasonable to inquire if they're covered.)
posted by gracedissolved at 12:29 PM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

The folks telling you to negotiate aren't in the legal business

I assume that gatorae, for instance, is in the legal profession given he says his employer pays his bar dues. MoonOrb sounds like he is as well, as do others. Don't be dismissive if you can't even be bothered to read the answers you're arguing against.

OK, I shall rephrase: I am in the legal business. If a junior associated said, at any firm I have ever worked with, that he wanted a raise in 6 months, more vacation time, to telecommute, or to share in profits for business he brought in, he would (a) have his requests denied, (b) be laughed at, (c) never make partner, and (d) likely have the job offer rescinded.
posted by ellF at 8:45 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

In measuring the risks and rewards of negotiating for things in lieu of a salary, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Your SO has been working part-time with these people for months already, so the risk of an offer being rescinded would seem extremely low. I mean, MAYBE there are firms out there that would rescind an offer if someone they intended to hire said, "Hey, I'd like to have 3 weeks of vacation instead of 2," not only would that be the extreme case, but it's unlikely to happen at a firm where your SO has actually already been working.

2. As the responses indicate, there's not a lot out there that someone in your SO's negotiating position could reasonably expect to gain. The best measure would be to see what the other associates and staff get. Before accepting, your SO could ask one of the junior people they trust, or just flat out say to the hiring partner something like, "I can't wait to accept this job offer, but before I do, I just want to cover all my bases. Does the firm typically pay for phones and data plans? Does everyone get a standard 2 weeks of vacation or can this be changed? What's your provision on bar dues, CLEs, and memberships?"

3. On the "what does your SO have to lose" side of things, your SO is and will be working with these people and would hopefully want to be perceived as being reasonable, willing to put in hard work, and eager to start at the firm. Asking for (IMO) crazy stuff like a cut of new business or to telecommute part time (if this isn't the norm) throws all of these things into question and they're not likely to get them, anyway. While the firm isn't going to rescind an offer, your SO could inadvertently mark themselves as naive, pushy, and not willing to pay their dues.

4. Your SO will walk into an office that is somewhere in the middle of a spectrum--on one end of this spectrum, your SO asks for something nutty and the hiring partner says, "Wow kid, you got moxie!" On the other end, the hiring partner says, "Here's your telecommuting right here, ya filthy animal," and rips up the offer. Neither of these views is really that reasonable. Law firms, like any business, want to hire people who have good heads on their shoulders; they're not really looking for people who have so little common sense that they'll ask for stuff that they should know is out of line.

5. In very short order, your SO will have the opportunity to prove themselves at the firm. If they have a great year and show they're a good hire, either they'll be welll compensated for it with a bonus or a raise after a year, or they'll then have the leverage to take a better offer elsewhere. Patience is a virture here.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:52 AM on January 27, 2012

MoonOrb has a good point regarding offer rescinding; I'm most familiar with BigLaw firms, which can be (notoriously) brutal.
posted by ellF at 11:33 AM on January 27, 2012

my thoughts are largely the same as the MoonOrb and ellF above, but i'm chiming in to verify these comments from a very young associate perspective:

i graduated from a top 6 law school and an analogous undergrad. i work at a very small law firm, under 20 attorneys. i think i was in the top third but we weren't really ranked. i found the firm during 3L hiring and for this reason i considered myself considerably disadvantaged in the job search.

i would (and did) inquire whether the firm planned to comp barbri. it didn't occur to me to ask about bar association dues and CLEs and such things, but there's no harm in asking if it is clear that you are asking.

i cannot imagine asking for a raise in six months or a share in profits. i can think of only one firm, boies schiller, that promises associates that opportunity. they are a unique trial firm and do a lot of contingency fee work. my recollection is that associates only get a cut of contingency fee verdicts.

i understand that small firms are very very different, but i cannot stress enough how foolish these ideas are. not only because they don't really make sense in a law firm model, but because i think you/your SO are overestimating your SO's worth to them. the market is saturated with unemployed young associates and, to be frank, your SO's qualifications are not stellar. i can think of several unemployed people in my graduating class. most of them, certainly, are smarter than me. i lucked out.

i have no idea how much vacation time i have, but the time off, as has been mentioned, isn't ever the issue, it's having the time to take time off. that is, if your firm is enjoying normal success and people think enough of you, you are going to find it extremely difficult (honestly, nearly impossible) to take off several weeks. well. i work at a trial boutique and my SO and all my friends are transactional biglaw attorneys. perhaps other practices are different .

actually the discussion of "vacation time" makes me wonder if we are discussing the type of firm that has established bonuses, but one thing i would do is talk to whoever you're dealing with and also other associates about what the bonus situation is. this is a big point of contention in my office.

one thing i don't see discussed above: in my small office, i take great, great, great care to manage the way i come off, particularly with respect to our office manager, who is also our HR person. the way the office staff feels about a young associate--particularly, in my experience, young female associates-- can have a great deal of impact on other attorneys and partners' impressions of you. if it's a good place to work, the staff has been there for years and will outlast you. they know how to make their evaluation of you known, and the partners listen. i would take great care in any type of negotiation to not sound as if i felt entitled. (my best friend at my firm was just fired, in my opinion, mostly for this reason. slow undermining over time. she didn't handle it properly. )
posted by anthropomorphic at 2:14 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

anthropomorphic really nails it. That advice is really on the money; just about anyone who has spent time in a law firm can vouch for the wisdom of those words, I think.
posted by jayder at 5:38 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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