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by Heidi Fagalde on February 8, 2024

The SEO's of Employment: Salary, Expectations and Offers

Entering the legal workforce is a pivotal moment for junior professionals, marked by a series of critical considerations encapsulated in the SEOs of Employment — Salary, Expectations, and Offers.

In our previous post Tips and Tricks for Law Firm Applications and Interviews we discussed the expectations that firms have and provided insights into the dos and don'ts of the application process. This blog goes one step further, exploring factors affecting an applicant's choice to accept or decline a job offer. Here, we highlight the results of our recent survey, aiming to illuminate the nuanced expectations of junior legal professionals as they begin their legal careers.

Understanding Salary Expectations

At the heart of employment considerations lie salary expectations. According to our survey, a significant majority of junior respondents expressed initial salary expectations within the $50,000 to $90,000 range. This range mirrors the delicate balance between entry-level optimism and the realistic financial demands of professionals entering the legal arena. Various factors contribute to these expectations which include:

  • Education and Experience:

    Unsurprisingly, the level of education and professional experience significantly influences salary expectations. Those with advanced degrees or specialized certifications tend to set higher salary benchmarks.

  • Geographical Variances:

    Regional differences in the cost of living play a crucial role. Professionals in metropolitan areas often express higher salary expectations to accommodate the higher living costs associated with urban centers.

Beyond the Salary: Expectations that Matter

While salary is a critical component of a job offer, junior professionals have made it clear that their expectations extend beyond financial remuneration, according to our survey. Factors such as workplace culture, career growth opportunities and mentorship programs emerged as equally vital considerations. This shift indicates that junior professionals seek a more holistic approach to employment, recognizing that working in a law firm may be demanding, yet desiring additional elements that contribute to a fulfilling professional experience.

Company culture, surprisingly, emerged as an equally significant factor as salary and benefits. This finding highlights the growing emphasis on work environments that align with personal values and foster a positive, collaborative, and inclusive atmosphere. ‘Diversity’ isn't just a buzzword; it's the fabric that weaves together a robust and resilient legal community. Junior professionals are acutely aware of the transformative power of a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Beyond fostering an inclusive workplace, it represents a commitment to justice, fairness, and a strengthened collective resolve. Many junior professionals, entering the workforce, want to know they are working in an environment where they experience inclusion and receive equal opportunities alongside their peers.

With legal landscapes constantly changing, junior professionals also recognise the imperative of continuous learning and career growth. Their focus on employers supporting ongoing education and professional development is not merely a desire for growth, it's a strategic commitment to staying ahead in a dynamic and competitive field. In doing so, junior professionals are eager to collaborate with seasoned practitioners, recognizing that knowledge transfer within a supportive community is indispensable for honing skills and gaining insights that textbooks alone cannot provide.

Additionally, the survey data expressed an overwhelming preference for mentorship, by 55% of respondents. But, why is mentorship so important? Several factors contribute to its prominence in the eyes of junior legal professionals:

  • Mentorship offers a direct avenue for junior professionals to receive guidance and insights from experienced individuals in the legal field.
  • Mentors serve as navigators of workplace dynamics, helping mentees understand the nuances of the legal profession beyond technical aspects.
  • The emphasis on mentorship in the data suggests that building meaningful connections and networks is highly valued among junior legal professionals.
  • Mentorship also contributes to the creation of a supportive and collaborative work environment

The emphasis on mentorship may reflect a desire among junior legal professionals not only for task-specific guidance but also for holistic career growth.

Other elements, such as regular training on the use of legal technology, continuing education and professional development courses, industry networking events, and regular review and increase of responsibilities, received comparatively lower percentages. This could imply that while these elements are recognized as valuable, they might be perceived as supplemental.

I am coming in fresh out of law school, with not even a fraction of experience than them and the other lawyers at the firm will have. I expect a workspace that is welcoming, helpful, willing to educate and mentor me.

Balancing Expectations with Reality

Delving deeper into the survey data, we uncovered a comprehensive set of inquiries from junior professionals keenly exploring their future employer's expectations. This exploration brought to light key areas of concern and curiosity. Among the recurring themes were:

  • Questions about advancement, criteria, timelines, and succession planning.
  • Employer's commitment to talent development.
  • Junior professionals express a desire to understand the skills and knowledge expected of them, seeking insights into what would make them successful in their roles.
  • Questions about the employer's expectations regarding legal knowledge, responsibilities, and required expertise reveal a commitment to being well-prepared for the job.
  • Clarity on expected work hours, overtime, flexibility, and the overall commitment their roles would entail.
  • The desire for transparency regarding work-life balance and potential overtime indicates a prioritization of a healthy work-life equilibrium.

The survey data highlights their focus on career growth, alignment with employer goals, and the importance of work-life balance. By better equipping junior professionals, we can enable them to make knowledgeable choices.

The Art of Offers

Decoding the Anatomy of an Offer

A job offer usually signifies the conclusion of the employment journey. In the intricate dance of career choices the decision to accept or decline an offer, stay or leave a job, is crucial. The acceptance of a job offer is influenced by various factors.

According to our survey, 32.5% of respondents indicated that they had turned down a job offer because it did not meet their expectations. These expectations varied from dissatisfaction of salary, citing instances where compensation fell below expectations or negotiated figures, to company culture. Additionally, the perceived lack of fair compensation relative to the work and time commitment emerged as a recurring theme, with new professionals feeling that their perspectives were undervalued. Issues related to workplace culture and work-life balance were also prevalent reasons for declining job offers. Concerns about overtime, bad work-life balance, and toxic work environments contributed to the decision-making process as well. Additionally, a notable number of respondents mentioned discovering deceptive practices, false job ad representations, or a simple mismatch between the job posting and interview expectations, indicating a desire for transparency and integrity in the hiring process.

The type of work that was required of me was different from what was presented in the job listing.

A further 46.8% confirmed having left a job, after accepting, due to the position not aligning with their career goals. The reasons for leaving jobs varied widely, encompassing factors such as insufficient opportunities for advancement, toxic cultures, misalignment with personal values, and limited room for professional growth.

Did not fulfill promises of benefits, mentorship, or work culture.

Issues related to industry fit and practice areas surfaced as well, with professionals leaving roles that were too niche or not in the right field for their long-term ambitions. Opportunities for client-facing work, relationship building, and a lack of legal work in some positions contributed to career misalignment.

Empowering Junior Professionals for Success

Grasping the intricacies of salary, expectations, and offers is essential for any legal professional. We hope this blog can serve as a comprehensive guide, offering actionable insights derived from real survey data. As junior legal professionals navigate the realms of salary expectations and job offers, the journey ahead also holds the promise of valuable mentorship, a topic we will delve into in our next post.

For a comprehensive understanding of the insights discussed, feel free to explore the full report.

Cover of our 2023 Early Career Legal Survey

Discover what aspiring legal professionals expect as they enter the industry and how prepared law firms are to respond to the demands of junior staff. Download our 2023 Early Career Survey.

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