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Sue your inner critic, get a higher salary

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Salary Negotiation

One crucial skill that is not (but should be) taught in law school is how to powerfully present the case that you would be an asset to your prospective employer and that you deserve a higher salary.

This is a skill that is left out from the other valuable technical skills we do learn – legal research, critical thinking, brainstorming different perspectives, augmenting our arguments through powerful metaphors, and carefully analyzing facts.

However, while our legal training has vigorously prepared us to advance these arguments on law exams, we aren’t using these skills when it comes to advocating for ourselves, like when it comes to salary negotiations?

Working world truths

When I first started out in the law, I dutifully labored under the work ethic espoused by my immigrant parents: Put your head down, Zelekha, and work as hard as you possibly can in school and at work and everything will work out for you. In other words, they believed that I would work in an environment where all of my achievements and successes would be appropriately recognized, praised, and rewarded.

However, after getting out into the professional world I quickly realized that in fast paced working environments, it is easy to have your herculean efforts and achievements go unrecognized and sometimes forgotten. It is up to you to bring your professional value and worth to the attention of your prospective employers but most importantly to yourself.

The more you appreciate and truly comprehend how much talent and intellectual firepower you possess, the more confidence you’ll exude and the better you can and will perform during your next salary negotiation.

Advocating for Yourself 101

Whether you seek a higher salary or a promotion, paint a powerful picture of yourself and your achievements to a prospective employer.

I remember years ago, when I was getting ready to negotiate my salary, I asked other attorneys for tips. Surprisingly, many of them told me that their work probably wasn’t good enough to warrant a raise. Yet, I had personal knowledge of the explosive intelligence and competency of each of these individuals. Yet, they systematically underestimated their own work. As a result, these colleagues didn’t think they could ask for more money.

I’ve observed the same complex with law students I’ve come across who didn’t believe they had sufficient experience on their resumes to negotiate their first jobs out of law school.

Yet, I wonder how can this paralyzing self-doubt can be the case for law students and attorneys who are specifically trained to see all perspectives – who are trained to extract the most favorable interpretations from the tiniest pieces of factual information?

We owe it to ourselves to exercise that same level of rigorous analysis and consideration when we reflect upon our own accomplishments, skills, talent, outcomes, and successes.

So, how can we close the gap between knowing how to vigorously, tirelessly, and skillfully advocate when we need to on final exams in law school (or on behalf of our clients) and using those same skills to advocate on behalf of ourselves during a salary negotiation?

First, we need to identify the tortfeasor itself – your inner critic. This the entity responsible for telling us that we don’t deserve increased salary or that we are just average employees.

U.S. vs. Inner Critic of [Insert Your Name Here]

Make a case against your inner critic. Your inner critic is your incessant inner voice and its mission is to keep you down. It’s your ego. It reframes all of your achievements in the negative – it discounts your skills, it tells you that you’re an average (or even below average) law student or legal researcher or writer. It casts doubt on your abilities, your intellect, and ultimately, your professional worth. Your inner critic is parasitic!

It’s the most unethical specimen you will ever meet. Bring a case against it. Sue your inner critic for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Sue it for violation of your civil rights.  Sue it for fraud.

So, now its time for discovery. How credible are your inner critics claims about you? How are you NOT all of the things that the inner critic says you are? You already know the arguments that your inner critic is going to advance. You hear it buzzing in your head everyday. Dismantle its entire theory against you. How will you do it? Bring your prodigious legal mind to bear on this case.

What is factually true about yourself, your accomplishments, and your successes? Start with that. Make a list of all of your accomplishments. Start with all of the projects, clerkships, internships, writing assignments that you have ever worked on. How did they turn out? Be as objective as possible.

Quantify and qualify what you have done. How many research assignments have you done for your professors or your bosses? How many pages were your memos? What wide variety of legal subjects have you been exposed to in school or in a work setting? I suggest you keep a list of professional skills and successes no matter how small and look at them often. Do this throughout your entire professional life. Look at them objectively and in a way where you are reframing all of your work as successes – leaving nothing generic left.

You drafted a meet and confer letter for the solo practitioner you clerk for? Great! What was the result of that letter? More documents from opposing counsel? Ok. Perfect!

Now dig even deeper. Don’t stop there. What were some additional results? These are secondary achievements. What important information did those documents have within them? What was their value? Did you or your bosses use those documents in a deposition to elicit crucial information from a key witness or key expert? Yes? Excellent! That is a secondary achievement … again borne out of the fruits of YOUR labor.

Don’t discount all of this! Continue this robust, introspective analysis of your work and use it to your advantage during your salary negotiations. Make yourself shine.

You’re pretty exceptional … despite what your inner critic says

Whatever level you are at now, whether its having completed your bachelor’s degree, having gotten into law school, having graduated, or passed the bar, these are all phenomenal achievements in and of themselves. You are in the top 6.7% of the world if you have a college degree. Once you have completed getting your law degree, that puts you somewhere in the top <1% of the entire world. You are a one-of-a-kind individual who brings special talent, work ethic and intellect to your position. Congratulate yourself! Harness this internal power and the sky is the limit for you.

Next time you negotiate your salary, put your inner critic on the stand and destroy its argument that you are somehow mediocre or average. Show yourself and prospective employers the extraordinary things you have accomplished that make you shine above others.

Do you agree that your inner critic is holding you back professionally and keeping you from dreaming and achieving big things in school or your career? Share why (or why not!) in the comments below!

Zelekha Amirzada Zelekha Amirzada received her bachelor's degree in Political Science from UCLA and her Juris Doctorate from University of San Diego Law School. During the last nine years, she’s practiced as a plaintiff’s side civil litigator in the fields of environmental law and consumer protection class action law. After witnessing the unique gender dynamics in the professional world as a female and as a minority, she decided to effect change by starting her own business helping women overcome career paralysis. Her experience in starting out as a timid, young professional woman and growing into knowledgeable, confident career woman over the course of her professional life has helped her guide clients to do the same – to stop living in a state of career fright and to start thinking bigger and dreaming wilder.