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Tips for Negotiating In-House Counsel Salaries

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on January 11, 2017 2:59 PM

Salary negotiations can be a bit more difficult for in-house attorneys than for other lawyers. Whereas BigLaw firms tend to follow strict compensation plans, pay for in-house lawyers can vary significantly across companies, industries, and experience levels.

That means you'll need to put in extra work to understand what salary is possible for you and negotiate a decent compensation plan. Here are some tips.

1. Know Your Comps

The key to getting the salary you deserve, regardless of your position or career, is knowing your worth. But knowing your worth requires knowing what others make at comparable jobs.

You can use tools like Glassdoor and industry reports to get a general overview of the market, but the more specific information you can get the better. You want to compare apples to apples, so if you're negating for salaries at a large defense contractor, for example, knowing what similar lawyers at similar companies get paid is going to give you more ammunition than knowing how much the GC at a small tech startup makes. In-house salaries can vary between industries.

If you can't find the information you need, cold calling colleagues can sometimes work, according to an article by Stephen E. Seckler on BCG Attorney Search. Just make sure to return the favor by reporting back your (anonymized) findings.

2. Keep All Forms of Compensation in Mind

Your compensation negotiations shouldn't be about just salary. You'll want to keep other sources of compensation in mind. Equity plans and bonuses can bump your salary more than a little bit, while you may want to negotiate perks like work-from-home days or increased vacation time in order to compensate for a less-than-top salary.

3. Keep in Mind What Other Attorneys Make

You may be the best attorney to grace the legal department in decades. You could be the addition to the team that the GC most desperately needs. You might even come from a prestigious firm where you were raking in more than most in-house attorneys with similar experience. But, if your pay expectations are well beyond the range current attorneys at the company are getting paid, you're probably being unrealistic. Your salary expectations should be more or less within the bounds of existing possibilities.

4. Know When You'll Say No

What will happen if you can't negotiate the salary you want? What's the lowest compromise pay you could accept? At what point will you walk away? What would happen then? Before entering into salary negotiations, be sure to think through the alternatives available if you're unable to reach an agreement. These could include taking different offers, staying at your current job, or restarting your search.

Getting ready for salary negotiations? Research salary data and job trends on Indeed.

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FindLaw has an affiliate relationship with Indeed, earning a small amount of money each time someone uses Indeed's services via FindLaw. FindLaw receives no compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

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