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Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Saturday, December 2, 2006

"Negotiating Your First Law Teaching Job"--Some Comments on Some Good and Not-So-Good Advice

Geoffrey Rapp, an assistant professor of law at the University of Toledo, has posted some advice about job negotiation for those fortunate enough to receive an offer of a teaching position.  Most of this advice seems to me sound and useful, with one major exception.  Professor Rapp's first piece of advice pertains to salary; he writes:

Particularly at state schools, while starting salaries may be negotiable, they are likely negotiable only within a small range. That is, if a school wants to start you at a certain amount, you might be able to negotiate a few thousand dollars more, but even if you are a Supreme Court clerk with 15 Harvard Law Review articles, you probably can't get ten thousand dollars more. While some academic types, who usually aren't all that interested in money in the first place, may feel it unseemly to ask for more money, it's not. You're likely negotiating with a Dean who him- or herself negotiated their own salary package with a university president or provost, so, as long as you are polite, I would be surprised if you ruffled any feathers. Similarly, even if you end up getting a higher amount than junior faculty already "in the building," that should work in their interest (i.e., it will make it easier for them to ask for a raise), so don't worry about coming in at a salary higher than what "the last person came in at." Negotiating for a higher salary will likely be easier if one has (1) advanced degrees (Ph.D.s), (2) prior visiting experience, and (3) multiple offers. Keep in mind, though, that the cost-of-living will vary widely, and an $85,000 offer from a small town school may well mean more money in your pocket than a $105,000 offer from a big city school. So a small-town school may not feel compelled to match a big-city offer. Finally, when negotiating a salary, one might want to do one's research. State school salaries are often a matter of public record, and you might want to investigate what other state law schools in the state you're headed to pay in order to get a ballpark figure.

My judgment is that unless you have another job offer, to even begin negotiating about the salary (unless it is made clear at the start that the salary is negotiable) will make a candidate look like a prima donna, and will get you off to a bad start in your new job.  Rookies are rookies are rookies:  for any one such rookie candidate to presume that s/he deserves more than others the school has hired is, I would venture, going to make the school think twice about its decision to have made an offer.  Even if a rookie candidate has a tenure-track offer from another school, one should proceed very gently on salary issues, and always in the spirit of, "I really would prefer to teach at your school, but the salary differential is just too great, is there anything that might be done to level the field a bit?" 

To be sure, if you'd rather stay in practice than take a teaching job at the salary offered, then raise salary as an issue.  But be prepared to return to practice as well.

Am I wrong?  Is Professor Rapp right?  Non-anonymous comments will be strongly preferred; comments may take awhile to appear, so post only once.

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Rookies may be rookies may be rookies, but your presumption that deans start off by offering all rookies the same pay may reflect your own professional biography--rooted in a state school, that is. In my experience and observation, deans not burdened with an open ledger feel freer to emphasize distinctions among beginners that can justify pay differences, and don't necessarily clump all new entrants into the rookie category. That doesn't answer the question of whether a rookie should dicker, of course. But I agree with Professor Rapp that any dean who negotiated a deal for his or her own job isn't enough of a virgin to be offended by the idea of negotiation.

Posted by: Anita Bernstein | Dec 2, 2006 3:09:05 PM

Just for the record, I started teaching at a private law school, not at Texas. It is not my impression this has much to do with public vs. private, but I'm curious to hear what others think.

Posted by: Brian Leiter | Dec 2, 2006 3:32:35 PM

I teach at a public law school where our salaries are public information, and I'd strongly recommend attempting a little gentle negotiation. I didn't manage a salary increase, but my initial offer included only a small sum toward moving costs. My final offer covered my moving costs up to a point that came close to actually covering my moving costs. It doesn't hurt to ask.

Posted by: Ann Bartow | Dec 2, 2006 4:07:55 PM

To be clear, I was only questioning the wisdom of negotiating about salary; one should, of course, inquire about moving expenses, as well as many of the other matters noted by Professor Rapp in his original post.

Posted by: Brian Leiter | Dec 2, 2006 5:47:25 PM

As usual, you're right on the mark, Professor Leiter. Negotiating salaries for an entry-level position is unlikely to yield much. If a school's bringing in more than one person that year, it's likely impossible. It's a terrible idea for a law school, imho, to start entry-level faculty at different salaries. (Although, I suppose, one entry-level person might negotiate a better deal for everyone!)

I think there's a lot to be said for lock-step salaries throughout the ranks. My sense is that schools may be moving more towards lock-step. But I'd be curious to know what others' sense is.

Posted by: Al Brophy | Dec 2, 2006 7:05:31 PM

As a relatively recent hire, I am posting anonymously (sorry).

I would say you are both right. From experience, it is definitely possible to negotiate more salary, even without an offer, though I suspect it depends on a variety of factors: a) how much the school seems to want you, b) how much room the dean has (and this probably does differ public v. private), c) how many "live" opportunities you have even if they aren't offers.

Even so, it helps if you have some principled reason for the request other than "I'm so great": a) debts, b) cost of living, c) increased travel to see family, etc.

Just two cents from someone who has lived through it.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 3, 2006 1:52:03 PM

I've been on both ends of this divide, and at public and private law schools, so I am pleased to offer my two cents:

1. Negotiating salary is seldom in bad taste; however, you will likely make your decisions on grounds far more weighty than the rather small difference in what you were offered and what you might pry loose from a receptive dean;

2. Be honest, be honest, be honest. (This goes as much for deans as for candidates). The hiring world brings out both the best and the worst in hopeful candidates, regular faculty, and, alas, deans. The more you can and will do to describe to the dean what are your hopes, dreams, concerns, and needs, the more likely you will have a package offered to you that will make sense;

3. By all means make a return visit to the school. You will nearly always learn something else and something different than you learned during your job visit. Bring your family;

4. Much more to say on this important subject, but let me just conclude with this:
Beginning law teachers, much like students shopping for law schools, make decisions based upon a peculiarly narrow set of criteria -- where prestige ranks first, location next, and nearly everything else distant third and below. The quality and aspirations of the school, the resources generally, and over the long-term, available to facilitate your work, and the potential for meaningful working relationships with faculty members who are diligent, interesting, and receptive to your professional agenda and objectives -- these ought to matter to the beginning law teacher far more than other factors. A skillful dean will communicate this message to the candidate, while also leaving her finally (whether or not she accepts the position at the particular law school) treated with respect and with the sense that the negotiations have been candid, comprehensive, and painless.

Posted by: Dan Rodriguez | Dec 4, 2006 1:37:33 PM

Prof. Leiter:

I'm not sure that our disagreement is all that great. There certainly are risks associated with any effort to obtain more than an initial offer, and to the extent that I did not make that clear in my initial post, I could have been more complete. However, I'm not sure I agree with your suggestion that a candidate seriously risks either their offer or their perception among future colleagues by making polite inquiries into the negotiability of initally offered terms. A candidate's negotiations should be with the dean, and other than reporting the result of the negotiations to the faculty (i.e., "we reached an agreement under the following terms"), I don't think it would be commonplace or appropriate for a dean to share a candidate's legitimate requests with the rest of the faculty.

Posted by: Geoffrey Rapp | Dec 5, 2006 2:02:57 PM

I went through the AALS process in 2005 and did not negotiate salaries anyplace I received an offer, for three major reasons: (1) I got the sense the Deans all came to me with their highest and best offer on salary (although moving expenses, etc. did seem like fair game to discuss); (2) since I was leaving a higher-paying job I did not want to give the impression that I was having buyers' remorse about the relative pay scale for academics vs. practicing lawyers; (3) At many schools faculty budgets were a zero sum game and an extra thousand or two in my pocket would come from the pocket of a faculty member who would be voting on my promotion and tenure in the future. Not the best way to make friends...

Posted by: Jeff Cooper | Dec 5, 2006 7:01:08 PM

Like Jeff, I didn't negotiate with the Dean on salary. However, after a few years I realized that I was the lowest paid member of the faculty, lower than other people more junior than I. It was a zero sum game, and I had the negative sum because I wanted to be nice.

Posted by: lawprofCharles | Dec 5, 2006 10:47:46 PM

I agree with Professor Rapp. When I was offered my first TT job, I was offered moving expenses and all manner of other benefits, but the salary offer still seemed low to me, even for that public law school. When I asked, very politely, if there was room to negotiate on the amount, I was immediately offered twice the increase I had planned to ask for. Since I can't assess the factors involved in either the first or the second offer, all I will say is that the final amount of my salary was all the sweeter, knowing that I hadn't been too chicken to inquire.

With respect to advice for aspiring law teachers, I think a conversation about a low salary offer would be even more important to broach if one were female or a minority member. Consider the numerous studies showing that members of traditionally subordinated groups are more likely to start at lower salaries, which of course will affect income for years, if raises are calculated as a percentage of base salary.

Posted by: lutefisk | Dec 5, 2006 11:02:13 PM

I want to jump in again to comment on the "lockstep" and "zero sum" issues. The concern on the part of junior faculty about salary equity at the entry level has always struck me as misguided. Salaries are lockstep, if at all, only at the very beginning. Indeed, even where public schools insist to the public that their faculty are paid per precise steps on a ladder, much of the compensation is off-ladder and seldom transparent. This condition is rather well-known and whatever the costs associated with intra-faculty envy and resentment is hardly masked or managed by the some principled commitment to strict equality among brand new faculty. My rule of thumb as dean was generally this: If you are being paid above scale for whatever recruitment/retention reasons, you better show me and the world that you are worth the extra loot. If you are not, the resentment of your colleagues will be well deserved. Alex Rodriguez (no relation, alas) should play like, well, Alex Rodriguez.

Zero sum resources? Shouldn't be. The dean's job is to ensure that above scale support is not provided at the price of suitable support for colleagues. Moreover, a new faculty member should never be made to feel that their negotiated salary & perks are drawn from a fixed pool. Competing with the market is a high risk game; the law school must think about it as a project for enhancing the well being of the all the faculty and not merely the bottom and top of a faculty hourglass.

Posted by: Dan Rodriguez | Dec 6, 2006 10:31:29 AM

Since I had what has to qualify as a positive experience on this issue, I thought I'd offer it even though it involves a foreign school.

Although I'm U.S.-trained, the job I've taken is at an English school (starting 2007), where pay is entirely lock-step. Prior to the short-listing interview, the Dean took the time to emphasize that the salary was (unsurprisingly) significantly lower than my current pay at a large New York firm - and that he needed confirmation that this wasn't going to be an issue. My response, quite sincerely, was to say that my interest in his school was for reasons other than pay, and that as far as pay was concerned my main worry was that it would be sufficient to support my family, i.e. I wouldn't turn down a school I liked for one I didn't simply because the latter was paying me more. As I said originally, pay at the school is lock-step (although all moving costs are included, even from abroad - plus $4-5,000 for incidentals). Nonetheless, after I received the job, but before I formally accepted (but after I'd informally accepted), the Dean let me know that he'd arranged for me to get a couple of years "credit" for my law-firm experience, so that I would actually be starting at a salary $3-4,000 higher than I was expecting.

So my point is this. Deans have budgets to work this, and limitations, but if you seem like a good fit for the school, and seem likely to stay around, a good Dean will do what he/she can to take account of your genuine needs. After all, if you're good enough to negotiate for a pay rise, you're presumably good enough for the school to want you to stay around. And happy people stay longer. However, he/she is less likely to make extra efforts if it seems like you have no real interest in the school, and would happily toss it aside for a little more money. Like any new employee, you're an investment, and a school will invest more in you if it seems like it will get some future payback than if you seem to view the school as nothing more than a first step on to greater things.

So, my take from the "employee" side: certainly ask for more money, but try to present it in terms of real needs, rather than just a matter of "pay me more than University X or I'll go there instead."

Posted by: Tony Cole | Dec 14, 2006 1:28:41 PM

Hi. I have read all of your comments with interest, as I'm a professional negotiator and not an academic (I confess, however, that I have a JD). I was curious to see the reactions from the variety of folk, though ... and even more intrigued by what I'll call the "niceness issue". It is emotionally gratifying to see that professors in various law schools really seem to care about not only their students but also the other faculty.

However, I must ultimately agree with Mr. Cole and his statement that you should ask for more money - politely and with an explanation (real needs are usually taken seriously). While budgets, both in the academic and commercial environments, are ultimately zero-sum for a given year... remember that budgets may grow from year to year. Thus, the pie gets larger, allowing ultimately bigger pieces for all involved.

Always, always, always ask for what you want in a negotiation. The worst thing that happens is that they say no. Then, as Jim Camp would say, you have the basis for a real negotiation. Take the time to understand their reasons and counter with effective rebuttals specifically addressing their reasons for saying no.

:)

Posted by: Jeff Gordon | Jan 15, 2007 8:01:30 PM

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