Lawyer Transitions: Encountering Counteroffers

Lawyer Transitions: Encountering Counteroffers

Valerie Fontaine and Roberta Kass
Special to
October 25, 2010

Something that sounds too good to be true, usually is. A large number of employees who receive a job offer, but then accept counteroffers from their current employer, will eventually leave, either on their own volition or through termination, within six months. Employers do not like to be "fired" (no one likes rejection), so a counteroffer can turn the tables. By accepting a counteroffer, all you may accomplish is ensuring that you will leave the firm on your current employer's terms, not yours.

Unless currently overstaffed, it may in your employer's best interests to entice you to stay -- even at a higher compensation level -- at least for a while. It costs much more to recruit and train someone else to do your job, and your leaving may catch your employer short-handed. Once you have accepted a counteroffer, an employer has the option of finding your replacement and terminating you on its own timetable.


While it is flattering to think you are so valuable that your current employer will do almost anything to keep you, you must remember that counteroffers come with built-in pitfalls. Because such an offer was prompted by a threat to leave, your loyalty to the employer has been called into question. When it comes time for career advancement, or -- especially in a down economy -- cutbacks, residual doubt may remain in your employer's mind. Consequently, if there is anything you desire that your current firm possibly could provide, unless it could threaten your position, it is best to ask for it before you start a new job search, not after you have received an offer of new employment.


In most cases, the circumstances that prompted you to seek employment elsewhere will persist. Very rarely does a candidate decide to make a career move for purely financial reasons. Usually there are a number of strategic considerations relating to long-term professional and personal goals, such as advancement opportunities, practice issues, management style, personal or client conflicts, geographic considerations, travel schedule, hours and so forth. Despite a counteroffer, the firm's culture, practice, client base, and personnel and personalities likely will not change.

If you are being tempted to stay with your present employer by promises of more money, perks or a promotion, ask yourself these questions: Why did it take a threat to leave to be offered these incentives? Were you being undervalued previously? Will your new compensation level offend others who are ostensibly at your level? Where is the money coming from -- will it be taken out of your next raise or promotion? Does the person making the offer have the authority to make good on it; or, are these empty promises? (If you have any thought of seriously entertaining the counteroffer, get those promises in writing!) Will these enticements resolve all the reasons you had for seeking new employment in the first place? Is this a better situation in all regards than the new job opportunity you have been offered? Will you have to threaten to leave the next time you want to advance at this firm?


Tendering your resignation is uncomfortable in the best of circumstances. It can bring up feelings of guilt, disloyalty, obligation and the fear of disappointing others. Furthermore, the new job, no matter how attractive, may engender fear of the unknown, leaving the comfort of your current duties and co-workers, and having to prove yourself all over again. In a slow economy, there is the further fear of being subject to any future cutbacks at the new firm as "last hired, first fired."

With those uncertainties, it is an ego-boost to hear how valuable you are to your present employer. At such an emotionally charged time, a counteroffer may seem like the easy way out, but it is playing on your vulnerabilities. Despite any fears, remember that a counteroffer is not necessarily about what is best for you and your career; it is about what is best for your current firm.


Do not overlook the fact that you are faced with a counteroffer only because you have another employer's offer on the table. Accepting the new offer and then changing your mind in favor of a counteroffer may have negative consequences. It would be very unusual for any prospective employer to sue, but there could be damages. They have held the position open for you and may have lost the opportunity to hire other candidates.

Also, consider that the legal community is small and word travels. The next time you seek to make a career move, you may find that your reputation precedes you. Prospective employers and recruiters are going to be less willing to take your search seriously for fear you will be, once again, susceptible to a counteroffer. Moreover, if you accept a counteroffer and let your new opportunity go, there is no guarantee that you will find as attractive an offer down the road.


Therefore, it is best to anticipate the possibility of a counteroffer ahead of time, and be prepared by clarifying in your own mind the reasons (which you do not need to share with anyone) why it is best for you to move on. This will fortify you for the reality, and help you withstand your employer's attempts to entice you to stay. The best way to handle your resignation and counteroffer is to be polite, but firm. Keep it on a positive note, thanking your current employer for the opportunities you have enjoyed with the firm, but stating that your move will allow you future career growth.


Read articles in the "Lawyer Transitions" series:

  1. Lawyer Transitions: Money Isn't Everything
  2. Lawyer Transitions: The Art of Negotiation
  3. Lawyer Transitions: Talking About Compensation
  4. Lawyer Transitions: What's on the Negotiating Table?
  5. Lawyer Transitions: Figuring Out Multiple Offers
  6. Lawyer Transitions: Giving Notice Without Burning Bridges
  7. Lawyer Transitions: Encountering Counteroffers
  8. Lawyer Transitions: It's Time to Go
  9. Lawyer Transitions: How to Succeed in Your New Job