Why Lawyers Out-Negotiate MBAs


Because we're masters of the art of "spin" and you can be too.

Payscale.com's 2015 Salary Negotiation Guide reveals that lawyers out-negotiated every other degree holding professional. As work-life balance expert Jen Hubley Luckwaldt explained in Negotiate Like a Lawyer if You Want a Raise,

It might surprise you to learn that level of educational attainment doesn't make a huge difference, in terms of who asks for a raise. Holders of bachelor's, master's, MBAs, and JDs all have the same rate of negotiating salary: 43 percent. The difference comes in when we look at who actually gets what they ask for -- and in that category, the lawyers have it over everyone else, with a whopping 59 percent saying they got the raise they wanted.

Luckwaldt says lawyers do it better because they do their research, support their arguments and confidently make their case, all principles with which I agree. But I'd say the defining characteristic of a lawyer negotiator is her ability to justify anything.

There's a very old saying passed down by law professors to law students and by grizzled old trial attorneys to lawyers holding diplomas on which the ink hasn't yet dried.

If you can't argue the facts, argue the law. If you can't argue the law, argue the facts. When you can't argue either, pound on the table.

Harry Truman famously said, "if you can't convince them, confuse them," another maxim many a trial lawyer has adopted when he stands before a jury.

I'd skip pounding on the table myself, though of course I've done it. Genuine displays of anger do result in bargaining concessions but they create ill will and that's no way to start a business relationship. And though confusion might trip your negotiation partner into a deal that's bad for him, bargaining mistakes create unstable contractual relations, often landing both parties in Court rather than a productive working relationship.

We Rationalize Desired Results in the Face of Opposition Every Business Day

Lawyers are good at rationalizing numbers like raises because it's something we do pretty much all day every day. That's what makes us confident. It's not our JD degree, our affiliation with a powerful law firm, or our law school experiences. It's practice, practice, practice.

Our best arguments get shot down on a daily basis. When that happens, we craft a better one, shift the ground under our opponents' feet, re-characterize the problem or change the conversation. If we argue personal experience and are met with statistics contrary to anecdote, we find different statistics to support our position. If we're relying on experts and you're relying on folk wisdom, we find the old country lawyer somewhere inside us to trump that card as well.

We don't always win. But we never, ever give up, even after the highest court in the land turns us away.

We find new plaintiffs to file new lawsuits arguing a different reason why the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional or the 14th Amendment should apply to gay marriage as it has previously been applied to marriage between the races.

So when raise time rolls around, we take our practiced justification experience and apply it directly to the wound of our below-market pay. And we don't stop negotiating when someone says "no." Someone says "no" to us on a daily basis, sometimes on multiple occasions. Our opponents say "no" to our settlement proposals. Trial judges say "no" to our requests for relief before trial. Juries say "no" to our pleas for a favorable verdict. Appellate judges say "no" when we ask them to reverse the rulings of the lower court.

"No" is catnip to lawyers. If there's any advice we take most to heart, it would be from the great Mohammed Ali.

Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

With all due modesty, if you feel uncertain, unpracticed and unprepared to ask for and get a 10-20% raise this year, particularly if you're a woman suffering from the wage gap, you couldn't do better than to hire a lawyer turned negotiation consultant with 25-years of experience justifying her clients' desired results to skilled opponents, bored judges and confused juries.

Comic courtesy of the brilliant lawyer cartoonist, Charles Fincher at LawComix.com.


Victoria PynchonComment