How to Successfully Ask for a Raise

By Lyndsay Markley

In many law firms, compensation reviews are often like Chicago weather – unpredictable and unpleasant. There can be an uncertainty about when is the appropriate time to ask for a raise, causing hard feelings on both sides. As a one-time Associate and Partner of a law firm, I’ve been on both sides of the fence when it comes to raises and it’s difficult for all parties involved if the process isn’t handled professionally. Here are my top tips for anyone asking for a raise:

1.  Be Scheduled

If compensation/performance reviews are not discussed during your final interview, I recommend addressing them as part of your overall package. By providing all parties involved with a clear timeframe, an employee is saved the anxiety of the unknown and for the partner it prevents random requests for compensation at a time that’s usually less than ideal.

2.  Be Prepared

Prepare answers to the following: Why do you deserve a raise? What positive impact have you demonstrated? What qualities do you have that will serve the firm in the future (meaning you are worth the investment)? List out the qualities you have now that will benefit your employers in the future and give concrete examples. Refer to hard financial data on your performance, too.

3.  Don’t act Entitled

Several years ago, an associate in my firm attended her compensation review with only one factor in mind – apparently, she was due an obligatory one-year salary increase. She had no idea what positive or negative impact she brought to the company, nor did she seem to care. On a side note, this first year associate had taken 17 days of vacation – not including ‘half’ days. Although her raise request was done with a straight face, it was hard to avoid disbelief on mine. The asker should be prepared to demonstrate objectively and subjectively, why they deserve an increase in pay.

4.  Be Aware of your Firm’s Financial Climate

A successful request for a raise will depend a lot on timing, even if the meeting is scheduled. Look at the circumstances going on at your office: Did your law firm just lose a huge trial or a big client? Are you hearing about budget cuts? If so, it might be good to delay the meeting for a few weeks.

5.  Be Conscious of your Value

There are many reasons why you might not be an ideal candidate for a raise and the best thing you can do is hear these out, improve upon them and try again. If you are denied a raise based on some performance issues, commit to your employer that this is going to change and ask for a six-month performance review.

6.  Be Calm

Appearing hot and defensive when you ask for a raise won’t go well. You have to be an advocate for yourself while remaining level headed – not an easy thing to do. Be in a good place before this discussion by trying to schedule it at a time when you are not rushed, hungry or stressed out. Visualize the success of the meeting on a regular basis as much as possible before it happens and, if you are into this sort of thing (I am!), meditate beforehand. Calm, cool and collected are three huge assets any employer would want to celebrate.

7.  Be Creative

Cash flow is a problem in most businesses. If your employer informs you that you deserve a raise but money is too tight, be prepared with a creative solution. An idea from my business (plaintiff’s personal injury and wrongful death), would be asking for a percentage of the cases you work on as you resolve them or an increased percentage of business you bring in to the firm. Other ideas are amenities: gym or club memberships, increased vacation days and a flexible schedule. Try to think about all of the possible ways you can get what you want, without breaking your employer’s bank to get it.

8.  Be Clear

Ask for what you want, plus a little more. This is a negotiation. You want room to move. If you’re granted your first demand that’s wonderful, but the odds are strongly in favor of a counter, which is less than your wildest dreams. If you build in room to move in your request, you can have real dialogue that also makes you look even more reasonable.

In the end, assuming you and your employer share mutual respect and value, you’ll be able to move towards an agreement that works for everyone. The above steps are a good place to start.

This article originally appeared in Be Leaderly and the WBAI 2015-2016 Winter Newsletter.

Lyndsay Markley headshot (1)Chicago-based attorney, Lyndsay Markley has dedicated her legal practice to fighting on behalf of persons who suffered injuries or death as the result of the wrongful or careless conduct of others. Her 2015 accolades include 10 Best Personal Injury Attorney for Client Satisfaction status from the American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys, Premier 100 Trial Attorney status from the American Academy of Trial Attorneys and Illinois’ Rising Star status from Super Lawyers.  Follow Lyndsay on Twitter