The demand for legal professionals is high in New Jersey. With a statewide unemployment rate hovering around 4 percent, and even lower in areas like Trenton and Newark, employers are scrambling to fill vacant positions with attorneys, paralegals and other specialists.
In fact, when a recent Robert Half Legal survey asked lawyers about the greatest practice management challenge facing their law firm today, the top response—cited by 31 percent of respondents—was the ability to recruit skilled legal professionals. Much further down on their list of concerns were managing caseloads (19 percent), offering alternative billing fees (14 percent), and staying current with new technology (13 percent).
Adding urgency to the talent crunch is an increase in business: 83 percent of the lawyers surveyed said their firm has seen an increasing demand for legal services over the past year.
What does all this mean for legal professionals in the state? Well, if you’ve been thinking about the next step in your career, now is an excellent time to polish your resume, put out feelers and apply for openings. Employers realize they must step up their efforts to land top legal specialists, so you’re in a good position to negotiate a better job offer.
But what’s good news for candidates is not-so-good news for law firms, who have to deal with a shrinking talent pool and other employment trends that aren’t exactly in their favor.
Regardless of which side of the table you sit on, here are some tips to help you get what you want.
Advice for Legal Job Seekers
You’re after a rewarding new legal position, but you also want an excellent compensation package. When you receive an initial job offer, use these tactics to negotiate a better one:
Get personal. During the negotiation process, focus on parts of the compensation package that matter most to you. Need to put more money toward your student loans? Then an above-average salary and a healthy sign-on bonus would be your priorities. But if you’re the type who values time off, you may want to ask for additional vacation days or even a sabbatical after a certain number of years. Hit your priorities first during a negotiation.
Research salaries. Don’t just pull a salary number out of the air. Whether you’re a recent graduate or winding down your career, you’ll be in a stronger position to negotiate if you’ve researched the latest compensation figures for legal professionals. Consult a trusted resource like the 2019 Robert Half Legal Salary Guide, which includes compensation ranges for a variety of legal positions, and use the Salary Calculator to customize results for your city. Support your counteroffer with reliable data.
Go after perks. Salary and benefits aren’t the only things on the bargaining table. Since you’re in a stronger position to negotiate before signing on the dotted line, ask for the extras that would help you enjoy better work-life balance—such as a flexible schedule, a certain number of telecommuting days per week, a compressed or 36-hour work week, and so forth.
Have Plan B ready. Even though employers are eager for legal talent, there’s still a chance a hiring manager will say “no” to your counteroffer. If this happens, ask if you could revisit this topic at a later date, such as during your first performance review in six months, when you would be considered for a merit increase or performance-based bonus.
Remain professional. By extending the initial job offer, the firm or company definitely wants to hire you. Don’t give them any reason to rescind that offer, which could happen if you come across as arrogant, disrespectful or unreasonable. Negotiate confidently but graciously. Aim for a win-win outcome where both parties get at least some of what they want.
Be prepared to walk away. Before making a counteroffer, have a definite idea of what you’re willing to give up and what is absolutely essential. Perhaps you have a firm salary threshold due to student loans and mortgage payments, or family responsibilities mean you simply need somewhat flexible start and end times to your workday. Decide where your line is, and let that be your guide as to whether you accept or reject the offer.
Get it in writing. This should be a no-brainer for legal professionals, but some job seekers are so eager to land a position that they fail to ask for documentation with the newly agreed-upon terms. If the prospective employer insists a verbal agreement is sufficient, that’s a red flag they may not have negotiated in good faith. Caveat emptor.
Advice for Employers
The tight job market in the state means hiring managers may have to put in extra work to land the legal specialists they need. Here are some tips for maximizing your recruiting efforts:
Offer a competitive package. To get bigger fish, you need bigger bait. Get to know the latest compensation trends with the 2019 Robert Half Legal Salary Guide. This resource also includes survey data to help you benchmark other important aspects of a job offer, such as employee benefits, workplace perks and financial incentives.
Emphasize the potential for advancement. Talented legal candidates want to know they’ll have the opportunity to move up within an organization. Throughout the recruitment process, let prospective employees know about in-house pathways and how the company supports career advancement via professional development and continuing legal education.
Promote your corporate culture. Legal professionals, especially Gen Zers, want to work for companies whose values align with their own. So showcase all the positive attributes of your organization’s culture, such as policies that support universal human rights, respect for diversity, and philanthropic efforts. Highlight all the reasons skilled professionals should join your firm.
Streamline the hiring process. Talented job seekers often entertain multiple offers, so act quickly when you come across a highly promising candidate. Don’t risk letting a competing firm snatch up that person before you get around to making up your mind and extending an offer.
Stop chasing unicorns. The more inflexible your requirements, the harder it will be to find someone. Few candidates tick every box. In an already-tight job market, don’t make it more difficult on yourself by looking for perfection. Instead, focus on the most essential needs and let on-the-job training fill any gaps in an otherwise outstanding candidate’s skill set.
Work with a recruiter. Hiring isn’t ever an easy process, much less during periods of extremely low unemployment. A specialized staffing firm understands the local job market and has a large database of legal candidates interested in both full-time work and project-based assignments.
For both job seekers and employers, it’s all about finding the perfect match. Make your job easier by familiarizing yourself with the latest hiring challenges—and how to overcome or make the most of them.
Lawrence Klein is Metro Market Manager for Robert Half Legal in the greater New York City area.