Are You Afraid to Ask for a Raise? Many Women Lawyers Are

If you find yourself afraid to ask for a raise, count yourself in good company.  You would be surprised to know how hard it is for even seasoned professionals to ask for more compensation.  And it is especially hard for women, who historically have been taught that ladies do not talk about money.  It is also hard for women because, by asking for a raise, you are saying that you are good at something and your worth needs to be recognized at a higher level.  In other words, you are bragging — or at least it sounds that way to you because that is another thing you have been taught not to do.  That particular learned behavior also interferes with your ability to develop clients because, to do so effectively, you have to tell them how competent you are.

Well, you had better get over those hang-ups because getting clients is what promotion in law firms is all about and getting the compensation you deserve is all about fairness.  You definitely need both to be successful lawyers and to feel like successful lawyers.

A recent article in the NY Times focused on moving past gender barriers to negotiate a raise.  The subject matter also included asking for a new position because the same concepts are involved.  The article emphasized the following preparation for successful negotiations:

  • Groundwork;
  • Fact-finding;
  • Preparation of Specific Language;
  • In-Person Negotiations; and
  • Role-Playing.

Let’s take a brief look at each of these:

Groundwork:  This is fundamental.  Before you ask for a raise, you have to build your case.  You have to document your accomplishments and contributions.  Sponsors can be very helpful in putting your case forward as well.  (Remember the difference between mentors and sponsors:  Mentors teach you; and sponsors are involved in efforts to advance you.)

Fact-Finding:  Your entire professional life is about fact-finding, and you do it all the time on behalf of your clients.  However, you don’t always do it well on your own behalf.  Before you ask for a raise, you need to know what you are worth.  The article recommends making a head-hunter your new best friend, and that makes a lot of sense.  Surely the head hunter will tell you your value if you appear interested in his or her services.

Specific Language:  This is where women really need to go beyond gender.  Women too often put emphasis on keeping the peace and being liked, and, as a result, they do not feel comfortable with strong language advocating for themselves.  Your lack of comfort can benefit from a strategy that includes an emphasis on why your work is particularly valuable to your employer.

Negotiate in Person:  This is self-explanatory.  If there was ever a time when e-mail is inappropriate, it is in negotiations.  You want to be able to see the look on the face of the person you are negotiating with — and change your approach if that look is not positive.  You cannot do that with e-mail or on the phone.  That is not negotiation;  that is lunacy.

Role-Playing:  This is an excellent suggestion.  You practice your oral arguments on your colleagues, and this is one of the most important oral arguments you will have in your life.  Get it right before you go on stage.  However, this is no time to role play with your colleagues — unless you are absolutely certain that you can trust them.  If you cannot, the role-playing can backfire on you, and your plans for negotiation may be short-circuited.  To be safe, look for people outside of the office to practice with and perfect your presentation.

This is only part of what you will read in the article.  You also will find some interesting discussion about how to — and how not to — use outside offers in your negotiations.  

Check out the article and conquer your fears!


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