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How To Negotiate New Hire Salaries + Benefits

Dana Moran

Written by

Dana Moran


July 13, 2022

How To Negotiate New Hire Salaries + Benefits

After spending one to two months filling an open role, law firms speed through the process of salary and benefits negotiation. Rarely does the back-and-forth over salary and other benefits last longer than a week;  43% of firms told Smokeball they spend one or two business days negotiating a new hire, while 37% take three to five business days. 

Yes, your firm needs to hire quickly to keep operations moving. But the time between making an offer and securing a hire is critical for both parties to ensure everyone’s needs are met. And top candidates can still pull out during the process if they feel rushed or undervalued.

Here’s how successful law firms approach the salary and benefits negotiation process when bringing new hires on board. 

Salary negotiations

Attorney attrition and burnout are on the rise. Recent reports suggest some law firms risk losing 125% of their associates over the next five years, with one in five attorneys under 40 considering leaving the profession altogether.  

Firms have bumped up salaries in a bid to attract and retain top talent. More than half (56%) of firms in Smokeball’s survey have increased new hire salaries at least slightly since the start of the pandemic. Considering 80% of firms report that candidates seek better pay in their new role, this is unsurprising. 

Expect to increase pay to fill roles. However, remember increased pay isn’t all new hires want — especially now that they’ve experienced the flexibility of hybrid work. Ask candidates why they’re leaving their current job — perhaps it’s due to a lack of work-life balance, progression opportunities or a desire to immerse themselves in a different practice area. Then, explain how your firm differs from their current employer — especially the ways you’ve supported a strong firm culture while working remotely — as part of your salary and benefits negotiation process. 

The top benefits new hires have requested or negotiated since the start of COVID:

While salary is near the top of new hires’ request list, it’s just one standout feature of your firm. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, new-hire attorneys and staff have requested: 

  • Healthcare: 62%
  • Increased salary: 52%
  • Hybrid work schedule: 38%
  • Full-time remote work: 31%

Healthcare and a better salary are evergreen benefits, but they’re even more front-of-mind during a post-pandemic jobseeker’s market and turmoil over recession/inflation. Some predict this talent shortage will last a while — so expect salary and other benefit demands to increase even further.

Attorneys’ growing preference for hybrid/remote work is another indication we’re living through a period of enormous upheaval. Never before have attorneys been given such freedom over where they work. Post-pandemic, however, this is simply an expectation. 

How to handle the hybrid/remote work conversation

Hybrid/remote work is still a fairly novel concept for law firms, making it difficult to know where to begin. Should firms demand their employees return to the office after more than two years of a hybrid model? Or is this the chance to flip the script, redefining an industry that has traditionally prioritized presenteeism?

Just 11% of firms in Smokeball’s survey say they’re not offering a hybrid model; employees are most likely to work from home one or two days a week, (38%), followed by two or three days (31%). But full-time remote work is also unlikely to prove fruitful; 52% of firms say less than 10% of employees work entirely from home.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and different individuals within your firm have different ways of working based on their role or personality. 

Ask both new hires and long-time employees what they would prefer, and why. If you choose to continue with a hybrid model — as most firms have — it’s appropriate to identify at least one day per week when everyone is in the office. That way, important meetings can be held face-to-face, junior attorneys gain important mentorships and teams have an opportunity to maintain culture.

Selling technology as a new-hire benefit

Tech adoption exploded in the notoriously slow-to-adapt legal sector in the past two years. Nearly 90% of participants in Smokeball’s survey brought on at least one new piece of technology in response to COVID-19. These tools allowed them to take on new clients, increase their billable hours and reduce overall hours worked, among other benefits.

Today, tools like legal practice management software aren’t just a nice-to-have — they empower attorneys and staff at your hybrid firm to collaborate on cases, find every file related to a matter and bill more accurately. Every person can work from a different location and work more effectively than they did pre-pandemic. 

If you’re advertising a hybrid model to attract quality candidates, they’ll also want to know about your technology during salary and benefits negotiation; it’s the how behind hybrid work. All-in-one tools like Smokeball allow you to streamline your buy while getting the most from one piece of software. And because Smokeball comes with training and support at every step, there’s no need to worry about getting new hires — or stubborn veterans — up to speed.

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