Where can you see yourself next?

December is the new July

December is the new July

Most of us would like to get as far away from 2020 as we can right now, even forgetting it happened altogether.  Unfortunately for many, there’s one item that can’t be forgotten and thoughts of it will linger around until the end of the year – the pay rise you missed in July and the anticipation that, at many firms, it’s going to be re-assessed and addressed in December.

But in this market, after this year, what realistically can you expect and how should you approach the annual negotiation when it comes against a backdrop of so much upheaval?

Here are some points worth thinking about:

#1 What are you worth? Unlike many of the world’s commercial legal markets, Australia’s law firms are far less bound by rigid, lockstep salary bandings;and the disparities between salaries paid at different firms for the same talent can make working out how much you are worth very tricky at the best of times.  So, get some advice.  Speak to us (or your recruiter of choice, which is most likely us 😉 ) and we’ll be able to give you an accurate assessment of your current salary, where it sits in the market and what you might achieve by changing jobs.  Speak to your friends at other firms if possible – get a sense from them about how much they’re paid in comparison to yourself and, importantly, how their employer has handled things through COVID-19.  Before entering any salary negotiation it’s essential to know how strong your footing is – waging war when you’re already on a good deal might backfire, yet holding back when you’re employer knows they’re getting away with murder is a missed opportunity

#2 Are you worth more?  In your heart you know the answer to this question; regardless of COVID-19 a good percentage of lawyers have remained very busy (even busier perhaps) this year than ever before, whilst some haven’t.  If your numbers stack up against previous years and, irrespective of the dog on your lap and the washing machine in the background, you and your team have been fully engaged and profitable then there’s a good argument that your worth more.

Alternatively, if this has been a tough year and you’ve not been close to your pre-COVID targets, it might be time to lick your wounds and nestle back into the pack.  The market will improve but this might not be your year.  Take a step back from your expectations and perhaps focus on July 2021 being a better time to make your play.

#3 Pick your moment. Due to this year’s exceptional circumstances any firm looking to readdress salaries and promotions in December is in somewhat uncharted waters and in the next couple of months there will be an intense focus on getting it right.  This year it’s important that you consider being pro-active and not just waiting for an email from HR.  Decisions on remuneration aren’t made on the basis of “one size fits all”, your Human Resources team will be sitting down with Partners and discussing individuals.

 Consider arranging a meeting with your supervisor in late October/early November to discuss your salary and promotion expectations.  Empathise with the fact that this year is different to most and, if you’re pushing for an increase and/or a promotion, make your case early so your boss is armed with the facts concerning you as an individual ahead of the meeting with HR.  If it’s clear you’ve done your research, you know your worth and it is more than what you are on, you’re far more likely to get what you want.

Only a few short months ago the battle for talent amongst Australia’s law firms was the most intense we’d experienced to date.  COVID-19 has certainly rattled confidence but since mid-June there’s been a growing stampede of firms returning to their pre-pandemic focus on growth.  Revenues may be down in some areas but staff retention is already back to being a key focus for most firms.

Use this to your advantage.  If you do your research, plan your message and deliver it in good time, you should be well positioned to see some recompense come December.

Matt Harris

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