Making Your Case for a Law Firm Raise

March 28, 2014

Attorney communicationOne question among law firm associates at various size firms (including big ones that are not lock-step) is how do I go about asking for a raise?  Consider the following steps:

  • Seek a sponsor.  This step picks up from the last post which discussed the importance of securing a sponsor (as opposed to a mentor) to help make sure you are on track in terms of advancement, responsibility, promotions and bonuses, etc.
  • Consult the firm policy manual or similar document.  There are processes for everything and firms do not like when you try to take short cuts.  If the firm addresses the issue, make sure to follow the firm process before taking matters into your own hands.  You can do both but first follow the process, if spelled out.
  • Be proactive.  You may be of the opinion that your excellent work will speak for itself so there is nothing for you to do.  This approach has limited upside other than saving you time.  If you are a star, why not make your case?  Firm management may not know you other than your numerical statistics.  Make their job easier by summarizing your value.
  • Make your case in writing.  Prepare a well-written, concise memorandum making your case.  A thoughtful, well-written memo demonstrates that this issue is important to you and worthy of management’s consideration.  Spend some time on the document to make sure it is clear, persuasive, and to the point.  Consider having someone review before submitting.  The person reviewing could be one of the people in the chain that will receive the memo — probably a good idea if he or she is willing.  The memo should probably include the following:
    • Your firm statistics for the year.  The firm wants to know how much money you made for it this year.  So, document how many hours you billed, how many of those hours were written off, how many of those hours were collected, total collections, expected collections coming after the memo is presented, etc.  If possible, you may want to provide additional detail about the top three matters you worked on, including hours spent and whether you expect those matters to continue into the following performance year.  Also, you may want to provide information concerning where you expect your hours to come from generally in the following year.  This information is helpful for management to have and demonstrates that you are firm focused and understand the business side to practicing law.
    • Intangible accomplishments.  In addition to the numbers, did you accomplish anything specifically worth mentioning?  Consider the following:  a successful result for a client, a new client, a potential new client, a success in a pro bono matter, recognition relating to involvement in firm activities such as the summer associate program, mentoring, etc., time spent helping with partner responsibilities such as billing, recruiting, business plan, etc.
    • Research comparable salaries, comparable firms.  There is plenty of information out there on salaries, especially for big firm attorneys.  Recruiters could be helpful here too.  Pick their brain for comparables next time they call.  Provide as much information as you can on what the market would pay you based on your level and experience.  Make sure the information you provide is for firms that are comparable to your firm.  For example, if you work for a satellite office of a St. Louis firm in Washington, D.C., it may not be relevant that an associate at your level at a DC based firm is earning more.