Reimagining remuneration: Approaching the remuneration dialogue for lawyers in the 21st century

"While achieving good grades is regularly likened to better pay and therefore upward mobility, a young lawyer in Nigeria would argue otherwise; this is not always the case and most certainly not a guarantee." - Christian Nwachukwu, cofounder TalkCounsel.

Christian Nwachukwu, Cofounder TalkCounsel

Leveraging my experience as a case study, I graduated from Abia State University and the Nigerian law school with good grades, yet I was, for the most part, confronted with offers within ₦25,000 - ₦30,000 monthly in the Federal Capital Territory. For some, this might be satisfactory, but considering various monthly expenses like transportation, rent, food, and other necessities, this is far from enough.

All employers are not equal, and as such, offers can fall on a broad spectrum ranging from low to high as a new associate. Beyond your entry-level status, determining factors in the remuneration package may include location, grades, the law firm's net worth, etc.

It is particularly disheartening when law firms that can afford to provide adequate compensation fail to. Some hide behind the following narratives, an all-too-familiar veil -- "there are plenty of other lawyers out there that would beg for this position," or "you should focus on the experience and not the money" -- to deny new associates better remuneration.

Seeing a salary offer that is lower than expected, meaning one that is not reflective of the years put in as a student or the exceptional grades garnered from sleepless nights, can be a painful blow to one's system. While we can hope for, and work towards, new regulations that address this issue, it is cardinal to note that regulation is only a short-term fix; it will likely take a while to come to fruition.

And so, finding alternative channels to approach this issue is necessary. One solution could be looking to self-development as a driving force. After much deliberation, I've found that being able to negotiate your salary after you have received an offer is a vital part of the hiring process.

My experience is that lawyers approach the remuneration negotiation table with little to no livelihood options -- a detail that employers are aware of and utilize to their advantage. With limited opportunities and skills to leverage in a highly competitive arena, lawyers are left with a boilerplate remuneration offer (i.e., "take it or leave it").

At the point of negotiation, you have already effectively conveyed your experience and convinced the law firm that you are the right person for the job. And now, to earn your worth, you must emphasize your value. That means highlighting the requisite skills needed and any other strengths you can bring to the table and how each one justifies your worth.

For instance, John is a lawyer with proficiency in digital marketing and web development and a reoccurring monthly side income of ₦250,000. It is not likely that he'll accept an offer of ₦20,000 a month for an associate position as a means of survival. At most, John would accept the offer because he wants to gain the experience, and not for the monetary value it can provide.

From the preceding, let's outline what distinguishes John from other associates:

  1. John has other skills besides lawyering.
  2. John leveraged his skills to create a reoccurring cash flow.
  3. John did not approach the employer from the survival perspective. 

The average wage for an SEO specialist in New York with less than 1-year experience is about ₦28,000,000 annually. This skill can be acquired with less than $10 on Udemy and for free on YouTube and several other platforms in less than 30 days.

Post mastery of this SEO skill, you can sell your SEO services virtually on platforms like Fiverr while maintaining your day job as an attorney. As a Nigerian-bred lawyer who has made a few hundred thousand from a skill-set picked up for free on YouTube, I can attest to the validity of this option.

Above all, I wholly believe in the power of self-development. It allows us to play a proactive role in our career's trajectory, which can make all the difference when navigating tumultuous waters. I urge all lawyers to be intentional in cultivating their skill-set. In turn, this will not only improve their bargaining chips but their overall financial status. There is a myriad of resources available to learn from, such as Skillshare, edX, Hubspot Academy, Udemy, and Startup School, to name a few.

Additionally, for lawyers that seek free software to kickstart the revenue generation of their service-based business, software solutions like Chiggopay, Mailchimp, Canva, Google Analytics, Flutterwave, and TalkCounsel are just a few invaluable options that can be incredibly helpful. While this is not the perfect solution to the remuneration conundrum plaguing Nigeria's legal industry, it can serve as a powerful tool in leveraging the playing field.

To further support and empower Nigerian lawyers on their journey to upward mobility and overall independence, TalkCounsel has created the TalkCounsel Fund, which is dedicated to assisting lawyers using their digital workspace. TalkCounsel is committed to redefining the legal experience in Nigeria and beyond.

*This is a featured post.

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