Mind the gap – top tips from AWLA session on pay negotiation

As part of its chosen theme for 2017 – “Know Your Worth” – AWLA is looking at ways to redress the gender pay gap still persisting in some parts of the legal profession, which anecdotal evidence indicates can arise as early as the two years’ PQE stage.

One reason identified for the discrepancy is that women may not negotiate at pay review time as strategically as their male counterparts. Hence the motivation for AWLA’s recent workshop on pay negotiation.

Panellists Anna Quinn (Anna Quinn and Associates Ltd/Resolution Institute), Jo Copeland (HR Director, Simpson Grierson), Sarah Keene (Partner, Russell McVeagh) and Tim Mullins (Partner, Lee Salmon Long), offered useful tips on how to achieve the best outcome for you, each from a different perspective but with some overlapping key themes, for example focusing on the importance of personal fulfilment as well as money, given that your time at work makes up such a large part of your life.

Topics discussed ranged from understanding the style of negotiating that will best suit you, tips to help you prepare for pay review time, the importance of being well-informed, and thoughts about what does and does not work from a partner’s perspective.

Anna Quinn, an experienced negotiation and mediation lecturer and trainer, noted the paradox that while female lawyers tend to do a great job in negotiating the best outcomes for their clients, they do not always carry the same strategies through to their personal negotiations. Different people have different styles – whether competitive, collaborative or compromise/ accommodation-oriented – and this will also be impacted by your risk tolerance level.

The key is to understand the likely outcome of each style and to choose the style that best suits you. While a competitive style is likely to net a good result, a collaborative style can do so as well and is likely to give a feeling of greater satisfaction with the outcome. An overly accommodating approach where you try to meet everyone else’s needs or simply avoid the issues is unlikely to do either.

Ms Quinn’s top tips for a successful pay negotiation included:

  • Negotiating for long-term success and happiness, including things like access to mentoring and further education, so as to set yourself up for your next challenge.
  • Creating value for yourself by getting your non-billables recognised.
  • Preparing for the negotiation by knowing your market and finding out what data the firm looks at (i.e. billables, experience, pay bands etc.).
  • Rather than becoming defensive, make sure you have the necessary information to back up your point of view.
  • Reframing things – instead of being unable to say “no”, try saying “yes, and I’d like this.”
  • Managing your own emotions before you go into the room.
  • Establishing a “back-up” if a negotiation does not achieve what you want it to, and creating a scoring system about what you are looking for in an organisation.

Jo Copeland, Simpson Grierson’s HR Director, comes at the issue from the viewpoint of someone who has been concerned about the outnumbering of women lawyers at partnership level for the past 20 years, something she says has driven her to want to achieve change.

Her (and Simpson Grierson’s) approach has been about taking positive, deliberate action rather than sitting back and waiting for change. – you can’t just sit back and wait. The firm now boasts a zero % pay gap, which was achieved through a number of initiatives:

  • Centralising remuneration – this is set across the firm by a Remuneration Committee, rather than leaving it to the partners to set remuneration for each individual in their own teams.
  • Paying staff, including new employees, relative to the internal market (i.e. what their peers in experience within the firm are getting paid), rather than simply paying them a little more than what they were being paid elsewhere.
  • Continuing to increase the salaries of people on parental leave so they do not lose out when they return to work, comparative to their peers.

Russell McVeagh’s Diversity Partner, Sarah Keene (who also heads up the firm’s competition law practice), is proud that, at Russell McVeagh, “women are not just there making weight, we are making money, earning respect and establishing value”.

Her key advice was to think about the long term game, of which salary negotiation is just a part. From that point of view, your role and the level of seniority you are accorded matters as much as the money. For example, when moving to a new firm, she suggests negotiating to be made a senior associate/partner within a certain amount of time. If having these kinds of conversation does not come naturally to you, practise it and think about how it will come across.

As part of this, you need to be ready to articulate the value you have contributed to the firm, including things like non-billables. This is also important for part-time workers, who are valuable and productive and need to be able to appreciate and communicate this.

She also suggests thinking about the direction in which you want your career path to go, commenting that, as well as the oft-discussed gender pay gap, pay disparities can also arise as between law firms and in-house roles. For example, some in-house counsel may be paid less than a law firm partner, even if working just as hard. “You need to reflect on that when weighing up your opportunities and make sure that you are valued for the work you do,” she said.

Lee Salmon Long partner Tim Mullins shared his experiences from a smaller firm perspective. He began by asking those assembled whether any of them had received a disappointing pay review in the past (the hands raised indicated quite a few). But interestingly, not so many had gone on to raise it with their partner. However, of those who had done so, most ended up getting something that they could live with.

His philosophy is that people and communication are all-important, and says that one of the main things impacting gender pay disparity is that people do not speak up. “A lot of time can be wasted just sitting around and waiting for a firm to be proactive. You need to have frank and transparent conversations about value. It’s about an ongoing relationship and no one can criticise you for honestly asking for information.”

Without such conversations, potential mismatches in terms of expectations might go undetected, and the relationship can become corrosive rather than being one of mutual value. Talking to colleagues, getting the most information you can and researching your options (including the possible leverage factor of going to another firm) before having the pay conversation can help and form part of the competitive process. “But bear in mind the long game of building your career – you don’t want a one-off improvement to ruin your long-term aims or to drive you somewhere you don’t have a sustainable role,” he said.

He also advised against trying to use formulae or “reverse engineering” (based on your hourly rates) to bolster your arguments about how much you should be getting paid. “It’s about value and principles, not mathematically-based arguments – it’s cogent, transparent and genuine information about the market and what you’re doing that makes you worth more. But it’s not a hostage negotiation – it’s not like you can never split the difference!”

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