Julie Q. Brush, Solutus Legal Search.

The offer stage is often likened to a chess match: Watching. Waiting. Thinking. And strategically assessing your “opponent’s” moves … as well as your own. It can be a maddening period for both candidate and employer. Each filled with a level of anxiety and the hope of “I do.” As a result, candidates search for answers on the best way to handle this situation to get what they want—and need. One piece of advice that has been popular to dispense involves the automatic counteroffer: No matter what the offer is … you always counter. Always. No exceptions.

So, how sage is this advice for today’s legal professionals?

Not very.

In today’s legal market, employers do not follow a standard playbook for offers—contrary to what some professionals may believe. Each circumstance is unique, as is each human resources department and hiring manager. So the philosophical approach employed will vary from offer to offer. Given this, there may be some situations where it won’t always make sense, or be in your best interest to propose a counteroffer. Example #1: You receive an offer that exceeds the stated compensation range/package. An offer that you know the hiring manager had to cash in political chits and fight for. Is a counteroffer appropriate in this scenario? No. Example #2: You are simply extremely happy with the offer you have received and are excited to move forward. Counteroffer required? Nope.

Candidates must be mindful of this current market reality and assess each situation independently to determine whether a counteroffer is prudent … or unwise. This requires a thorough understanding of the dynamic at hand. So when evaluating whether to ask for more, ask yourself … and answer the following questions:

  • Are you happy with the offer? Why or why not?
  • Is the offer fair?
  • Are you unable to financial afford your standard of living on this offer?
  • Is the offer at the top of the compensation/stock range?
  • Does the offer exceed the stated compensation/stock range?
  • Has the hiring manager been transparent with you about the compensation, where it slots in; and his or her inability to go beyond the range?
  • Do you trust the hiring manager?
  • What messages have you received about the compensation throughout the process?
  • Has the hiring manager told you this is his/her best and final offer?
  • Did you tell the employer you would accept a specific compensation number that is reflected in your offer?
  • Did the hiring manager “go to bat” to extend you this offer?
  • How involved has HR been in the process? And how powerful does HR appear to be? A powerful HR heavily involved in an offer is indicative of less comp flexibility.
  • Does your desire to get “more” outweigh any of the factors above?

After you’ve assessed these issues, a clearer picture will emerge regarding the right path for you to pursue. If you decide to counter the offer, craft your “ask” wisely, communicate it effectively and be sensible. An unrealistic request will not sit well with employers and you’ll run the risk of a rescinded offer or tainted reputation. If you decide to accept the offer as is, do so enthusiastically with gratitude and thanks. This negotiation phase is the springboard for your future relationship with the employer. So the conduct and judgment you display now will set the tone going forward.

Compensation is an important piece to your professional puzzle. And, no doubt, it’s an important factor in every career decision. But it’s not the only factor. Consequently, determining whether or not to push for more does not involve a one size fits all solution. It requires good judgment after careful consideration of your experience in the process. And no two experiences will be the same. So discard that antiquated advice and implement a modern perspective for modern times. And you’ll be a savvier professional for it.

Julie Brush is the founder and author of The Lawyer Whisperer (www.thelawyerwhisperer.com), a career advice column for legal professionals, also found on LinkedIn. She is co-founder of Solutus Legal Search, a legal search/consulting boutique firm, serving as a strategic adviser to lawyers, law firms and corporations.