Articles From the Team
Just accepted an in-house role? Read this before marking up the contract of employment!
In-house is about being commercial and getting the deal done, yet for some lawyers the impression they give at offer/contract stage is anything but!
After working hard to impress at interview, to demonstrate your knowledge, relevance of experience, cultural and personality fit, and overall suitability and interest in a role, it often amazes me how uncommercial lawyer candidates can be when it comes to the offer and contract stage. Gone is the commercial and solutions orientated lawyer – the deal maker - that the client bought into at interview, and in their stead is the technocrat contract specialist who is focused on the detail beyond everything else. I’ve heard more than one candidate tell me “I’m a contract lawyer, it’s what I do”, when justifying their negotiating stance.
Now, it goes without saying that a person’s contract of employment is one of the most important documents they will review and sign, and so the details of this document need to be correct. However, it should be borne in mind that the majority of companies issue standard employment contracts which all employees sign up to, contracts which are governed by UK/EU Employment Law Legislation and are non-negotiable. It should also be noted that some benefits are almost never included in a contract of employment – e.g. discretionary bonuses, profit share, flexible working etc. I’ve heard it said: “if it’s good enough for the CEO, then it’s good enough for [the candidate lawyer]” and “we cannot have bespoke contracts to suit everyone’s needs and wants”.
I’m not implying that there isn’t room for negotiation during an offer process, as there most certainly is, however it needs to be undertaken at the right time and in the right way. Negotiation on salary, benefits, working hours, days of work etc. should take place before a contract is issued, and you should bear in mind that some of these are discretionary, non-contractual and/or only given in good faith. An employer won’t commit to certain benefits in writing and pushing for said benefits can imply a lack of commerciality.
You should never lose sight of the fact that your dealings with your recruitment consultant and your prospective employer provide a window into your working style, personal approach and priorities. The offer and contract stage is as much a part of the interview process as the interview itself and I have seen clients get cold feet as a result of an awkward negotiation surrounding the contract of employment and benefits. Too often lawyer candidates get bogged down in the detail of their contract of employment, and the impression given is that they are perhaps not as well suited to working in-house – they’re not commercial – as the client had initially thought.
The majority of employers are not out to trick, dupe or mislead prospective employees and sometimes an element of good faith, trust and belief are required. Whilst a contract that only suits one party should be avoided – it should be win / win - it is important to note that a contract of employment is often standard, non-negotiable and applied to all employees. Marking up the contract or pushing for discretionary information/benefits to be included definitely sends out the wrong message.