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How to Negotiate a Pay Rise

With the 2021 salary survey just released, and mid-year reviews happening we are fielding a lot of questions about what people should be earning, and how to go about negotiating a better pay rise.

As you’d expect, preparing for the discussion (or discussions) is critical, and the better your preparation the better the outcome.

Business Conversation

Many lawyers simply expect a pay rise each year no matter what.

But running a law firm is a business, and deciding what you get paid is a business decision for the firm. Understanding what’s valuable to that business, what position that business is in and how you can make a good business case for a better pay rise are key components of the process.


There are four key areas to think about when seeking a salary increase:

Work quality

Use your review to update your resume / transaction bible.

This might help you highlight some of your work achievements for the year or matters where you have gone above and beyond your normal work requirements. Either way, a transaction bible helps form the basis of a good CV!

Your Partner / Manager is busy and time poor and may not remember everything you have done during the year so use this opportunity to remind them.


Have your financials handy and be across them or at the very least, ask to see them.

Which financials will be relevant? Ideally you want to know if your time recording, your time billed, your debtors and your write-offs are all within acceptable tolerances.

If they are not, the question is why? Have you consistently underbilled throughout the year? Was a large file unexpectedly written off through no fault of your own? Be prepared to discuss the ins and outs of these figures, especially if they point to an issue of some kind.

It shows you are thinking in a commercial way and understand your value/cost to the business.

Client feedback

If clients give you good feedback ask for an email or testimonial.

It can help build your case for that salary increase especially when your busy Partner / Manager may not be across the great feedback you are receiving.

Similarly, if you have had bad feedback or a problem file in the year, be prepared to discuss it. What went wrong and how are you avoiding it happening again?


What marketing have you done and were there any successful outcomes to report? Can you attribute any files or fees to your marketing efforts?

The best way to keep track of these things is, of course, to be doing it consistently through the year rather than to leave it all until the last minute. If you can track, review, compile and adapt yourself in these areas on a regular basis then you’ll already have a lot of the necessary information when preparing for your salary review.


Do market research and have a salary benchmark in mind that you can back up with data.

The best source of reliable data doesn’t just come from a salary survey but also through speaking to experienced, specialist legal recruiters (like us!) who can give you market based salary advice specific to your individual situation (level of post admission experience, firm type, practice area and performance).

For those of you in big firms there are likely to be internal salary bands that come from significant research done by your HR Departments (typically Mercer data for the big law firms) and there is usually a top and bottom range.

Knowing what they are might help push you to the top of the band. In smaller firms, who often don’t have access to such data, it may be the case that you need to educate your Partner about the market more generally.

If you don’t ask you definitely won’t get!

Not Happy? Try Negotiate goalposts

If you’ve had the “discussion” and things didn’t go according to plan, what can you do?

A key thing to be aware of is why you aren’t getting the salary you requested. Is it outside the salary bands? Are you not perceived as a high performer? Does the firm simply underpay across the board? As best you can, try to identify what the cause of the lower salary is.

With that information to hand, it might be worth negotiating some KPIs or outcomes and link a salary to achievement of those outcomes with a specific timeline. Of course, sometimes a lower than expected salary is a symptom of things totally outside your control, but not always.

Some firms do out of cycle salary reviews and this may allow you to be caught by that. For example, one candidate we placed was in line for a salary increase not in the June/July review but in the October “market review” where the firm again reviews data.

Remember – it’s a business decision and there are many factors at play. The more you can work and plan throughout the year with this discussion somewhere in the back of your mind, the better off you will be when the time comes.

Career check

Use the hour you have with your busy Partner / Manager to do a career check. While some firms now split salary discussions apart from performance discussions, your review can also be the time to raise any other related issues with your supervisor.

This is an hour you rarely get to discuss your career and nothing else.

Some of these discussion points might include:

  • Are you being given enough work or indeed the right type of work to get you to the next step in your career (promotion, building your practice or moving on to a bigger firm, overseas, in-house/government)?
  • Are you getting sufficient supervision/mentoring/guidance?
  • Do you want to do further study?
  • Do you see business or client opportunities?
  • What goals/KPIs do you need to achieve next year to achieve a bonus if you didn’t get it this year?

If you don’t discuss these things with your supervisor, they can’t really do anything to help you achieve these goals.

Ready to Negotiate?

Do you need some help preparing for your next salary review?

First: Download our 2021 Salary Survey – just head to the salary survey tab at the top of the page! You’ll soon have access to the best salary report for Queensland lawyers.

Then: get in touch with us and we’ll help you out.

We’re former lawyers ourselves, so we understand how challenging these discussions can be, and what it feels like when you get offered a smaller than expected pay rise. But as recruiters we also know what can be done about it to give you the best prospects in your review process.