A Law Student’s Guide to Hiring Negotiations

It can be such a thrill to receive an offer for a summer clerkship or a permanent associate’s position.  How would you respond to the offer?  What questions would you ask?  Below are a few tips to guide you in your hiring discussion and negotiations.  Remember that these are general rules and that there are always exceptions for individual circumstances. 

1.  Convey how pleased you are to receive the offer, but rather than accepting on the spot, you should kindly let the employer know that you would like a little time to consider the offer and establish a time frame for when you will get back with them.  For example, you might ask if you can let them know within a week.  This allows you to think through the decision, talk it over with friends or family, or even to consult with one of our Career Counselors.

2.  Have a list of questions prepared if there is information critical to your decision.  For example, would you be assigned to work with a particular partner or team in the firm?  What would be your billable goal for the year?  Not every firm gives associates such a goal, but if they do, it would be helpful to know up front what will be expected of you.  What is the partnership track?  Are partners admitted as equity or non-equity? 

3.  In terms of finances, the firm should make a concrete offer for a specific amount.  In the current economy, it usually is not negotiable, although if you have an offer from another firm, sometimes you can play off of that.  But in doing so, you run the risk of alienating the people with whom you may be working for the rest of your life, so tread lightly.  Firms can get a bad taste in their mouth for an associate who seems overly focused on money.  I highly recommend that you confer with a Career Counselor if you plan to make a counter-offer or to negotiate for a higher salary.  Some firms will pay for bar study/prep fees or for moving expenses, although it is becoming less common in the current market.  Nonetheless, if the firm does not offer either of those, it is acceptable to inquire as to whether either is available.  Firms are often more willing to pay small bonuses of that nature rather than establishing a precedent for a higher starting associate salary.

4.  Think about the long haul.  It is easy to focus on the starting salary, but it is even more important to think about your earning potential in the future as a senior associate, and particularly as a partner.  What do you know about the firm and its compensation structure for partners?  Are there various tiers for partners, such as equity and non-equity?  How stable is the firm’s client base and earning potential?

5.  Thank the firm for its offer and for the invitation to join their firm.  Good, old-fashioned manners never go out of style.

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