Legal Recruitment from Ten-Percent Legal

Monday, September 01, 2008

How to handle negotiations for job offers

In the current market, job offers are issued in a somewhat nervous manner at times. Recently we have experienced a firm getting very nervous about negotiation and withdrawing completely from a job offer.

A solicitor was offered a post in a small to medium firm in the south east. At three years qualified, the salary was very good and was in line with figures you would expect to see in a good firm across the UK. The candidate accepted the offer immediately and a contract was sent out. Upon receipt of the contract, the candidate decided that there were points in it that needed to be negotiated and discussed further, so they got back in touch with the firm with a list of requests.

The firm considered these and within about two hours had withdrawn the offer.

So what had the candidate done wrong? Firstly, in the current market, firms are very nervous about everything. Whether this is recruitment or purchase of new equipment or just business in general, they are terrified that something is going to go wrong, or they are going to find themselves in financial difficulties. This particular offer had been made and the contract negotiation had made the firm very nervous, so rather than negotiate further, they had simply withdrawn.

The candidate had wanted to negotiate overtime as well as extended holidays and also requesting confirmation of payment of practicing certificate and CPD costs.

I think the point that had worried the firm the most was the query about overtime. The candidate had noted in the contract that the firm had indicated overtime was expected and that they would require the candidate to work as necessary. The contract did stipulate that any time worked out of hours could be taken off the following day if it was for events such as business breakfasts or networking in the evening. However, the candidate wanted paid overtime for any hours worked after ordinary office hours, and this terrified the firm as they naturally expected their solicitors to work after hours as necessary to get the job done. I think this point above all others was the one that resulted in the job withdrawal as in the circumstances of a recession, work getting harder to source, it could be said that one has to put in more hours to get the same returns as in a good market. It is all a question of reasonableness and this has to be from both sides, employer and employee.

The final nail in the coffin was the request for more than three weeks off in any three month period that may occur. From a recruitment angle, this is unheard of. I have not come across any contracting employments that provides for employees to take more than three weeks off in any three month period and have even come across clauses that prevent anyone from taking more than two weeks off in a period of employment at all, unless in special circumstances and approved by the partnership or board.

The problem is of course, that if you take three weeks off in any one period, you then have no holiday for the remainder of the year which can result in people needing to take unpaid leave or phone up and take sickness, as for their appointments during office hours, they would simply be unable to attend them.

What lessons can be learned on negotiating a job contract in the current market? Firstly, if you have gone through an agency to get a job, don’t forget to use the agency to do your negotiating for you. Consultants spend a good proportion of time negotiating contracts and are usually very experienced at it. They can also frame things in a way that does not appear too worrying for law firms, so for example, for this particular candidate, we could have enquired about a specific event requiring three weeks off in a three month period – perhaps a honeymoon or a house move etcetera. We also could have advised the candidate on the issue of overtime and the fact that this is not paid in any law firm unless in particular circumstances where perhaps a contract was needed to be completed over a weekend.

We could also have applied on the payment of a practicing certificate and CPD points, because I suspect the firm in this instance felt slightly demeaned by the request for this to be confirmed as every respectable law firm pay for these and it goes without saying that they are included. Again, a recruitment consultant can put this in a better way than an employee can.

In general, if you receive a job offer from a firm in the current climate, you need to think carefully about how you deal with it. Make sure that you consider it carefully because there are not as many vacancies out there or sources of work and once you have considered it carefully, make sure that you approach negotiations with an open mind and do not try to push the firm into a corner on specific demands.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment. He regularly writes and commentates on the state of the legal profession and legal recruitment in general. His website is www.ten-percent.co.uk and you can contact him at cv@ten-percent.co.uk

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