How to negotiate a pay rise and how to deal with a request for a pay rise
in Careers Advice, Changing Jobs, Employers, Staying in Your Job

How to negotiate a pay rise and how to deal with a request for a pay rise

We are often asked by candidates whether they should request a pay rise from their employer and how to go about doing it. It is an incredibly difficult conversation for both parties to have. What is an acceptable level for both employees and employers and the two are very different.

When I started out in legal recruitment over 20 years ago I always thought that law firms were incredibly tight with some of the job offers they made to potential candidates. Quite a lot of the time we just assumed that a figure had been plucked from mid air!

However as we deal with both law firm sales and legal recruitment we are in a fairly unique position to be able to see exactly what is behind job offers and why they are at levels pitched by employers. What is surprising to us is that quite often the job offers are carefully thought out, but its simply the low level of income a particular role is expected to generate that results in the offer being made.

Here are our top tips for negotiating a pay rise and dealing with a request for a pay rise

Be prepared to explain why you want the rise

Are you generating more fees than expected? Have you taken on more responsibilities? Are you working longer hours?

At the moment the starting point will probably be rising inflation, so a request for at least 5-7% would not be unreasonable. After all, an argument for getting this is that an employer is in fact offering a pay cut because the value of the salary has dropped in view of the rising cost of living.

Consider whether your request is reasonable

Look at the evidence – are you being reasonable by requesting a pay rise? Do you know about the current fortunes of the firm and is everything OK?

Surprisingly quite often the conversations we have with employees is not along the lines of how much money they can squeeze out of an employer but more what is ethically reasonable to ask for. On the one hand they don’t want to upset their employer, but similarly they don’t want to feel that they are being robbed or exploited! This is an incredibly difficult balancing act for most people.

Professionalism v Profit

I think employers are probably quite surprised by this because they view the business with a lot more of a link to the profit levels generated rather than the actual work which employees complete. Employees tend to be more interested in the professionalism of their work whereas employees are quite rightly more concentrated on whether the work is generating the sufficient level of profit to enable them to keep to keep going.

Keep an open mind

Think about what it is you actually want – money, flexibility, career progression? These can be very different negotiating points. If you are the employer what do you think the employee is actually asking for.? Is the end game just more money (eg are they looking to purchase a house, move to a nicer area, earn more to support their family, progress into a managerial or ownership role etc..). do they need more flexibility with their work to enable them to fit in the demands of family life or are there other things you can offer without having to spend more money and decrease your profits but make a very happy employee? For example do they want career progression, or are they motivated by generating higher fees for the business?

Keep an eye on the whole picture

How will the requests of one employee affect other people within the company? I often see law firms where the secretaries (who may have been at the firm for 30 years) earn more than the fee earners who are supporting their wages. This must inevitably lead to some resentment within the firm! Important to remember in smaller firms that one person getting a particular type of benefit or pay rise is almost always going to end up feeding back to the other employees. .

Best time to ask (or to offer to discuss)

Just because an employee has not asked for a discussion you should not raise it as an issue. There is never a good time to ask and most employees are uncomfortable talking about money. Usually the easiest way of raising it as a discussion point is during a performance review, but if you get into the habit of asking if you can talk about your work with your employer it may in time become a little easier to discuss the financial side.

Never shut an employee down or rule anything out

If you are an employer do not shut anybody down who requests this but instead talk it through with them and try and be as open and straightforward as you can be. Always think about solutions and compromises.

For example if an employee requests more money because they are generating more fees then it could be worth having a think about offering them the same risk that you have in the business. You could offer them access to a bonus scheme of say 30% of everything they generate above 2.5 times their salary. This can be a risk free solution for both employees and employers, probably more favoured by employers rather than employees.


Always think about the position from the other party’s perspective whether you are an employee or an employer and ask yourself whether any request is going to sour your relations with the other party and cause cause irreparable damage. Always be prepared to compromise and never say if you have applied for other jobs and been a lot more money. If you do this your time with the firm has probably ended in any event!

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 20 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at You can contact Jonathan at