Use Employee Benefits to Guide Your Job Search (But Not in the Way You Might Think)
If you didn’t catch our previous post about BigLaw employee benefit packages, take a look here. In that post, we outlined “typical” benefits that BigLaw firms offer their associates, and highlighted some very important but often underutilized benefits that can greatly improve associate quality of life.
We can’t reiterate enough what a difference a good employee benefits package can make for associates, but they can be pretty useful for job seekers as well, especially if you’re trying to figure out which firm offers that elusive “fit.” In this post, we’re going to look at certain BigLaw benefits and what they can tell you about a firm, beyond just the benefits themselves.
Job Searches Rely on Data Points
With the important caveat that every attorney’s job search is different, there are certain data points towards which most job seekers gravitate, in part because they’re relatively easy to find.
The most obvious data point is salary. People, by and large, care about getting paid (particularly associates coming out of law school with lots of debt), and they want to know how much before going into a new job. In many industries, salary transparency is a pretty big issue; companies often don’t disclose salary up front, or even during the interview process, and this lack of clarity can have serious ramifications.
Notably, lack of salary transparency is linked to perpetuating the gender pay gap. From one recent study: “An emerging body of research finds that pay secrecy policies—workplace rules, informal or formal, that bar or discourage workers from discussing wages and salaries—disadvantage women in particular.. First, these practices prevent women from finding out whether they are being underpaid. Second, in cases where women do discover a pay discrepancy by violating a pay secrecy policy and asking colleagues about what they make, their attempts to remedy the disparity could be met with retaliation from an employer.” As an aside, one should know that such policies are flatly illegal under federal law.
In this respect, BigLaw does somewhat better than most. The BigLaw lockstep, publicized salary scale levels the playing field somewhat, taking salary negotiations off the table and avoiding gender discrepancies (at least in terms of salary; bonus, other benefits, and intangibles like culture are another story).
Beyond salary and other monetary compensation, information on non-monetary compensation, i.e. benefits packages, are generally available on BigLaw firm websites. Like salary, benefits packages tend to be similar across BigLaw firms (with some notable exceptions). Still, this information generally is available to inform a job search.
Speaking of firm websites, job seekers can also find a lot of information about practice areas, firm leadership, and who actually works at the firm…all of which is also important when choosing a place to work.
We call all of these “data points” because they are individual pieces of information that come together to inform a job decision. And while they can form a fairly detailed picture, it’s also very common to hear a job seeker say: “But I’m looking for the right FIT.”
Fit is Important, but Difficult to Assess
In other words, job seekers want to know: Will I like working here? Will I like the people I work with on a day-to-day basis? Will I be able to find work-life balance? Will this firm allow me to live the way I want to live? Does it align with my goals? Will I be happy?
It’s completely understandable that these are some of the most important questions for job seekers, but unfortunately, they are also the most difficult questions to answer because they are inherently personal. After all, firms can’t put something on their website that tells you whether you’ll get along with your coworkers. And while Vault Law’s associate surveys are incredibly valuable in this respect, there’s another way that associates can gather useful data to answer these questions.
Firm Benefit Packages Can Signal a Lot, if you Read Between the Lines
The information that firms make available about their employee benefits can be extremely useful, if you know how to analyze it. In order to do so, however, you need to understand what you really mean when you ask about fit. No, you still won’t be able to predict with certainty whether you’ll like your officemate. But you can get closer.
The reason it can be so difficult to predict future happiness at a job is because we don’t unpack what “happiness” in a job means, in a holistic, big-picture sense. How can we do this?
The first step is to make a list of your priorities, which can inform whether you’ll like a particular person, feel comfortable in a particular environment, or be able to live life the way you want. Some examples could be:
- Diversity (in all forms)
- Shared social and/or political values
- Feeling able to start/spend time with a family
- Office culture that fits your style
- Health, fitness, and wellness
Believe it or not, the benefits that a firm offers can signal a lot about these priorities. Let’s unpack them.
Diversity. Of course, you can go on a firm’s website to get a sense of whether there are people who look like you, and composition of associates and leadership can tell you a lot. Just as informative is a deeper dive into the types of diversity initiatives a firm offers. These days, all BigLaw firms will proudly advertise a suite of diversity offerings, but some will impact your daily experience far more than others.
For example, does the firm offer robust mentorship and sponsorship for diverse individuals? Does the firm create safe spaces through diversity networking opportunities, active committees, and engagement with outside communities? Do health benefits include coverage for fertility treatments or gender affirmation surgery? Do family benefits include same-sex partners? Is family leave gender-neutral?
Shared social and/or political values. There will definitely be overlap with diversity here, which makes perfect sense. Without going into sensitive issues, it’s safe to say that everyone leans one way or the other socially and politically, and whether a firm offers certain benefits could indicate the overall leaning of the firm’s culture, which would likely attract people of similar leaning. For that reason, looking into these benefits could be important even if you don’t personally expect to utilize them. For example, what does it tell you about a firm’s culture if they proudly advertise coverage for gender affirmation surgery or openly acknowledge all pronouns?
Feeling able to start/spend time with a family. While most BigLaw firms offer generous maternity leave, firms still differ in the amount of paid leave they offer. More telling are things like whether a firm offers gender-neutral parental leave or leave for non-birthing parents, and how much. Take a close look at not only whether a firm has a formal flex-time policy, but dig into how utilized that policy is, and whether attorneys advance into leadership roles after, or while, working flex time.
Office culture that fits your style. This might not seem to fit in with other, much weightier priorities, but little things can make a big difference. If you hate wearing a suit, or if you have difficulty finding non-gender-conforming business clothing, casual dress as opposed to mandatory business attire could have a huge impact on your daily experience. If you’re an introvert who prefers to spend a workday largely undisturbed, look at whether a firm promotes its open floor plans and joint work spaces as an integral part of its culture.
Health, fitness, and wellness. The reality of BigLaw is that no matter what, you’re going to work hard. Long hours can make it difficult to attend doctor appointments or go to the gym. Some firms offer on-site nurses, gyms, or fitness classes, as well as incredibly robust telehealth options. Not only are these offerings attractive on their own, but offering them in the first place could signal a firm’s orientation towards prioritizing wellness.
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Like we said, there’s no tool in the world that can truly predict happiness. But being deliberate in your thinking and diligent in your research can go a long way to making job satisfaction a lot more likely.