Most lawyers will automatically receive a salary increase each year. We are often told that there are no opportunities to negotiate the increase. However, we also know that there is a huge gender and ethnicity pay gap and that equal pay is still an issue. There are many reasons for this, but let’s focus on the ones we can actually control: (a) getting ourselves comfortable talking about money, and (b) planning ahead for pay reviews. 

equal pay pay reviews salary

Let’s first address the elephant in the room: recession

You might think that now isn’t the right time to talk about money. Businesses are struggling with the economic impact of the pandemic and people are concerned for their jobs. 

However, most businesses will be hoping for a V-shaped recession rather than a U-shaped recession (this would mean that the economy would suffer a sharp dip but will then spring straight back, rather than take a while to round back up).

Whatever type of recession we have, pay review conversations will be back on the table eventually. It’s important to be ready when they are.

Don’t be Jennifer

This week is Jennifer’s pay review. Like many female lawyers, she always goes above and beyond in her job and she feels underpaid and undervalued. She knows that she is paid less than her colleague, Michael, who is 2 years less qualified and doesn’t pull his weight. 

Her line manager calls her into the meeting. He explains that it has been a challenging year. He then gives her a vague indication of the firm’s pay scale benchmark against competitor firms. Then he tells her what her pay increase will be. 

It is underwhelming.

Unprepared to respond fully, Jennifer simply informs her manager that the increase is less than she expected. But she accepts defeat and leaves the room. 


How many pay reviews are like this?

Get comfortable talking about money

We often find money conversations awkward – whether it’s negotiating client bills or having salary reviews conversations with line managers. 

To make things worse managers spend a lot of time trying to avoid situations where employees might ask for more money. We are usually told not to discuss money with our peers and pay reviews are more a dictation than a negotiation.

Lois P Frankel explains how men generally feel they are entitled to more than their colleagues whereas women generally feel it would be “fair” to get equal pay. She also found that women struggle to ask for what they deserve and undervalue themselves during salary conversations. 

So no one is doing us any favours here. But we aren’t doing ourselves any favours either

How to prepare for a pay review

1. Do your research – find out the pay ranges typical for your role and level in your region. You can do this online or through recruiters or by asking trusted friends (male and female!) at other firms. 

2. Use logic NOT emotion  –  use logic and facts to make a case for why you should get a raise. Avoid using emotional language, such as “I feel like I deserve this”. Instead, use tangible measurements like: over the past year I have been responsible for 3 out of the 5 top billing matters, I have saved us costs by developing an innovation product for more efficient working and my matter related hours are 10% over my target

3. Give a specific figure – this is the most important element of preparing for a pay review and is where most people fail. You absolutely must be specific about EXACTLY how much you expect to be paid. Saying “I would like a higher increase” doesn’t go far enough. You must be prepared to say,  “I would like to be paid X”. By this stage, you’ll have done the research and used logic in order to justify asking for whatever “X” is. 

4. Give your line manager time to reflect – just like us, line managers often find it awkward to talk about money. As a result, their first response may be to say no, or to get defensive. The way to overcome this is to explain that you understand their position and you appreciate the work they have done and will continue to do to ensure you are paid fairly. Say that you know they’ll probably need to take your proposal away to discuss it internally and that you are happy for them to come back to you separately.

This will give the impression that you understand the process and will allow your line manager to reflect on your proposal and avoid a knee jerk reaction. You’ll also come across as a confident and professional negotiator, which might just impress them!

This also applies to bonuses. It is important to know your firm’s bonus policy in advance and be clear about how much bonus you expect to receive. It helps to go into your pay review with a printed version of the policy – that way to can highlight it and provide tangible examples.


Pay review conversations might not happen for a while, but we should start preparing from now. 

Negotiating your salary can be scary and this will be amplified in the context of the pandemic where many people have had pay cuts. So pay review conversations are going to be more delicate. But most pay cuts are temporary and a pay cut isn’t an excuse to be paid less than your male counterparts.  

Once you have a clear view of what you are worth, go into any pay review confident, armed with research and logic. Be realistic with your expectations but make sure you give a specific figure for the salary you desire.

Remember that negotiation is an indicator of confident professionalism so stay positive and never act overly impressed.

You’ve got this!

Female Lawyer Investments



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