Salary Offered vs. Your Accrued Debt
Be concerned about how the offered salary compares with your accrued debt. Does this income allow you to pay your debts? While your altruistic nature might lead you toward public defense work, you might not be able to dedicate yourself to that cause if your salary doesn’t meet your financial needs (and wants). Will you have to compromise by living with roommates (or your parents)? On the other hand, a public service position might qualify you for public service loan forgiveness.
Review non-salary benefits. These sometimes extend beyond the obvious and can compensate for a lackluster paycheck. Military jobs offer tax-free housing and subsistence allowances, student loan repayment assistance, and comprehensive healthcare. A position in a district attorney’s office might provide competitive retirement plans, generous life insurance, or robust holiday allowances. Beyond financials, an organization’s attorney wellness resources and initiatives will reveal a great deal about its priorities and support.
Rivaling big-picture items are the ever-important day-to-day considerations:
- Will you have sufficient paralegal support?
- If you are moving, how much is the relocation allowance, if any?
- Does the job provide access to Lexis or Westlaw?
- What equipment must you supply?
- Is the commute manageable for the expected hours?
- Will you be able to work from home (or from the beach)?
- While salary and benefits are important, soft factors can influence—and perhaps even define—your experience and enjoyment.
Beyond what you can expect from an employer, consider what the employer will expect of you. Higher-paying jobs are likely to keep you in the office more often. Consider how that might affect your personal life:
- How many hours are you expected to bill?
- What is the caseload?
- Will you have to answer work calls on nights and weekends beyond your 60-hour workweek?
- Are Saturday morning calls and emails part of the office’s weekly rhythm?
- Do holidays come second to filing pleadings and conducting legal research?
These considerations are inextricably linked to office culture, which range from collegiate to cutthroat to corporate.
Outside of the bilateral employee-employer relationship: consider how a new job might affect your home life. Though people often define themselves by their jobs, it is paramount to remember that no person is an island. Your employment decisions affect you and your significant other, your dependents, your friends, and others who rely on you. Consider:
- Is a high-paying job worthwhile if you can’t enjoy the fruits of your labor with your spouse?
- Would a modest salary coupled with guaranteed vacation and healthcare provide the most upside for your family?
- Does being one of two litigators at a boutique law firm offer the flexibility to visit your parents on the other side of the country?
Moral Impact and Fulfillment
Be especially mindful to determine and consider the nature of the work, its potential moral impact, and whether it will fulfill you. If you became a lawyer to litigate, research whether associates at that top-tier law firm you’re eyeing get courtroom experience or simply review documents in preparation for trial. Maybe a lower-paid public defender job is a better fit. There may be a different set of burdens there: Can you stomach being the only one in your client’s corner emotionally, legally, and literally? Even when that client doesn’t like you and lets you know it?
While survival instincts can overcome critical analysis, the latter is necessary when making employment decisions. Give yourself the proper tools and time to make the right decision, and if you receive an unsatisfactory offer, decline or negotiate away the discomfort. Though difficult, do not hesitate to do either if the offer is not suitable for you. Accept a job that fits you. If you blindly accept the first offer you receive, you might find yourself back on the job hunt sooner than you’d like.