A guide to negotiating your salary as a solicitor

Written by: Rachael Gordon
Published on: 27 Apr 2021

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Many solicitors spend their days negotiating deals on behalf of clients, so it’s often taken for granted that they’ll be equipped to negotiate their own salary when receiving a new job offer or looking for a pay rise during a performance review. However, like many professions, solicitors are rarely taught how to negotiate their salaries effectively. In fact, even the most seasoned negotiators can find salary discussions daunting. We asked legal recruitment experts their top tips on salary negotiation and what solicitors should keep in mind when having these crucial conversations.

Do your research

Start with the basics: do your research! You should find out what the market rate is for your practice area by looking at online salary surveys and speaking to colleagues in the same field. Consider the type of firm you are working for, as there will always be a variant between a big city legal 500 firm and a regional practice. The Lawyer Portal has a useful guide which shows the difference in salary between solicitor salaries depending on the type of law you choose to specialise in, and your location in the UK.

For example, in criminal law, the Lawyer Portal advises: “Working in London, criminal solicitors earn on average approximately £52,500. Outside of London, the average salary for a criminal lawyer ranges from £32,000-42,000 depending on the area. In Scotland and Wales, the average salary of a criminal lawyer is just under £43,000 whilst in Northern Ireland, the average is around £33,000.”

Your PQE is also important to consider. If you’re a newly-qualified (NQ) or junior lawyer it's likely you'll enjoy a considerable jump in your earnings. Prospects have a good guide on the types of salaries to expect when you’re a newly qualified or junior solicitor.

The impact of the pandemic

It’s important to consider the issues that your firm may be facing in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, a recent survey by The Law Society’s Law Management Section suggests that firms are forecasting a 10-20% drop in revenue for the 2020/2021 financial year. It’s worth taking projected revenues, the state of the business, and any restructuring plans into account when approaching your manager to ask for a higher salary. If your firm has recently instituted a pay freeze, for example, it might be a sign to consider waiting a while for things to stabilise before asking the question.

Show your worth

Show your new or current employer why you are valuable and worth the salary increase and cost to their P&L. Be sure to back this up with facts and figures, such as billings and KPI’s – for example, enquiries brought in by business development, year on year company growth etc. Recruitment experts Austen Lloyd explain: “Remember nothing in this world comes for free and with a salary increase will be the expectation for increased output. Become an invaluable asset to your employer - there is nothing wrong with going above and beyond the call of duty and any employer worth their salt will recognise this and reward this at a salary review. Be sure to mention all the ways you have added value to the firm such as overtime, bringing in new clients, etc. The list can be endless so be sure to let your employer know.”

Law Absolute mention the importance of selling your skills - you want to make it clear that they are getting their money’s worth in awarding you your desired salary. Consider what salary you would want to work for and the bare minimum before you go in to negotiate, remembering it should be higher than what you worked for previously.

Heat Recruitment also have some good advice on selling yourself – “Show your employer just how important you are to the team by looking at your achievements over the last 12 months and the difference you have made to the firm or business itself. For instance, consider any key contracts that you’ve managed or clients, estate agents and solicitors that have been particularly impressed with your work. Get together a portfolio of all of your best work to really showcase what an essential member of the team you are and how the business will continue to benefit from you being there.”

Be organised

Negotiating a pay rise can be nerve-wracking. Deciding when to approach your boss, how much to ask for, and what to say all needs careful thought. Firstly, schedule a date and time with your line manager to have the discussion and be prepared with all the reasons why you are worth the pay rise. The Lawyer mention that Thursday at 11:30am is a good time to schedule the meeting – there’s a psychological reason why this time works best. If you can’t convince your boss, it’s probably not a good idea to go over their head and approach your head of department – your line manager may feel undermined, and often you will need their support in backing up your pay review claim.

In terms of what you should actually say in the meeting, Total Jobs have some good advice: “Start by thanking your manager for their time and tell them how much you enjoy the job. Then move on to highlighting your achievements over the past 12 months – and briefly outline how you will contribute to the company in future. At this point, you should reference your research on salary benchmarking – stating what employees in a similar role earn elsewhere and at your own company.”

And what about after the meeting? David Carr, Divisional Director at Anakin Seal Legal Recruitment has some tips:

  1. Take some time to reflect objectively on the decision that was made.  Emotions can run high if you haven’t got the pay rise you wanted.  However, it’s always best to let the dust settle and consider the reasons that have been given.
  2. Follow up with an email confirming what was discussed and what has been agreed as the criteria you must fulfil to get the pay rise on the next review.
  3. Make sure you put in place a method of documenting your achievements and contributions you are making to the business. 
  4. If it was identified that you need training or development in an area then get a plan in place to do this.  For example you may want to book onto some internal/external training sessions, attend more networking events, write more articles/increase your activity on social media etc.
  5. Look at the market.  Have you hit a pay ceiling for the job you do?  Is it the case that you might need to take on extra responsibilities to get the higher salary you want.  Are you willing to do this?

Use a recruitment consultant

If you reach the point where you are looking for alternative employment and the thought of  talking directly with a prospective employer about salary isn’t appealing, or you just don’t have time to look for a new role and debate salary, there is always the simple option to use a recruitment consultant. A recruitment consultant’s role is to speak with employers on a day to day basis and negotiable the best possible salary and package for you, so they’ll have all the necessary skills to do this. Law Gazette Jobs has hundreds of roles available via recruiters – browse them here.

If you need any more support or career advice, check out our resources: