Salary Negotiation 101: Explained by Jennifer Justice, Jay-Z’s former lawyer

Jennifer Justice and Beyoncé. PHOTO: COURTESY JENNIFER JUSTICE

Meet Jennifer Justice, renowned entertainment attorney with all-star clientele such as Jay-Z and Outkast! As a legend in a male-dominated industry, she has mastered a skill that many of us are afraid of: self-advocacy.

I’m thrilled that Jennifer sat down with Fetti this week to teach us exactly how to negotiate as a professional—from tackling salary negotiations to advocating for yourself in the workplace.

Could you tell us a bit about your background and career journey?

I started my career as a music attorney, where I represented artists and musicians. Basically you represent them and help them get their record deals with all their different albums. When they're songwriters, you help them with their sponsors, endorsements, doing their touring agreements, etc. 

One of my first clients was Jay Z. And he wasn't that well known at the time, but he was very entrepreneurial. We were building his career together with a very small team. Unlike other attorneys in my field, we were building massive businesses outside of just his music career, and he was using that music career and his popularity there to leverage himself into other areas of business. 

We started Roc Nation and I went in-house there and became the General Counsel. Then I quickly became the EVP doing all business development and strategy. And that way, I was helping other artists on our roster to also build and scale their businesses outside of just their music. From there I went to a company called Superfly, where I was the President and helped them in corporate development. From there, I decided I was making money for men by day and trying to overthrow the patriarchy at night because my real passion was gender equality. 

So I started the Justice Department, which is what I do now and it is doing exactly the same thing as I was doing for Jay Z and all my other clients. I represent talent—if that is a female founder who has talent, if that's an executive who is talented, if that is a musician or artist as talent. I help them grow and scale by helping them negotiate better and bigger deals for themselves. And it's really, I only really represent women. So I just have a real vision and mission here at the Justice Department to help women get rich because I feel like if we have the financial, social, and political capital equal to men, this world is gonna be a better place. 

Jennifer Justice, also known as JJ. PHOTO: COURTESY JENNIFER JUSTICE

Can you explain some common components of a compensation package beyond just salary, especially those that students and new grads might overlook?

Well, to negotiate, you need to ask. You're not gonna get something that you don't ask for. 

  • Whenever somebody is giving you an offer, there's room to improve whether that's salary, whether that's in a title, whether that's in a bonus or a signing bonus. There are ways to make it better. And if you're not going to get it immediately, there are ways to do it within the first year of your working there, in particular, if you have accomplishments or just have time served. 
  • One of the biggest components of negotiation is doing your research and understanding what's available. On top of it all, make sure that you understand your role there and what you have done—like how you’ve contributed to the company, either making them more money or saving them money. 
  • Another component in negotiation is that you have to do it from a place of abundance, not scarcity. So you want to know what you're asking for. And you want to feel that you really deserve it. That's part of the mindset of doing it. You have to understand that if they've offered you the job then they want you there—and they will want to keep you there.

What are some effective negotiation strategies that young professionals can use, even if they don't have much experience?

First of all, it's really helpful to find your tribe of people who can help you get the courage up because just knowing that there's somebody behind you and supporting you is helpful. [This way] you're not there by yourself. It could be anyone. There are people at work, those with whom you went to college. It could be your family, it could be your best friends, but having that foundation and support really helps from the beginning. 

The next is not falling for the first offer or making the first move. A lot of people do this, especially if you don't have that experience behind you. You might be asking for too little or making an offer that's too little. Let them offer the job, let them offer what it is.  Nine times out of 10, it's going to be more than what you thought you were gonna get. 

Another thing is, you don't have to answer right away. You don't have to answer verbally, you can sit back and say “I want to think about it and I'll come back to you”, and you can respond in an email. It's completely acceptable to respond in an email. You don't have to think on the spot. You don't have to go right away as it usually makes you negotiate against yourself. You don't have to feel that pressure. Then you can have time to respond authoritatively in an email, but you don't have to feel the pressure at the same time.

Many students and new grads might feel intimidated by the idea of negotiating. How can they overcome this fear and approach negotiations with confidence?

You have to ask yourself: are you more scared of doing it or not doing it? Are you more scared of being told no, or is it scarier to not ask for what you deserve? Because if you look five years forward, and you didn't do that, what you don't want is regret. 

Yeah, it's scary if it doesn't happen. But what if it does, you know? So you gotta get over that fear. And it'll continue to be scary but less and less so once you get more experience behind you, your worth, etc. But if you don't ever cross that hump, you're never going to know. 

Jennifer Justice, rocking it. PHOTO: COURTESY JENNIFER JUSTICE

You mentioned that not negotiating can result in significant long-term financial losses. Can you elaborate on how negotiations early in one's career can impact their earnings trajectory over time?

If you are in a professional career, and you don't start negotiating—by the time you're 60, you could leave $1.5 million on the table. And that money over time, if you had invested, could be worth multiple times more than that. 

And it doesn't just have to be in things like a salary. It could be staying longer for a 401k or vesting stock. There are things that can happen in a career that you aren't really paying attention to or are not really thinking of because they're so far down the road. Getting your 401k seems like forever when you're 25 years old, but that can add up over time, leaving so much money on the table by the time you really need it or want to quit working. 

So, at a minimum, if you're not negotiating, you're leaving over a million dollars on the table.

What advice do you have for individuals who feel undervalued in their current roles but aren't sure how to broach the subject of compensation with their employers?

That’s when you need to sit back and write down all the things that you've done and jot it down like “I did this deal and made us XY money”, or if you have more of an internal job, you know, “I did XYZ and I saved the company this much money.”

Once you have that all down and you do it over a certain period of time, you start to see that there's a pattern of you making the money. And if you can actually tie a monetary value to it, then it's very easy to go and say “Hey, I'm making this much money but I saved this much for the company.” Then, you make an argument for making more. If they're not open to it, there are other things the company is paying for, like your benefits, etc, right? So you need to double your salary to account for that kind of stuff.

But let's say that you go and they're just like, “Yeah, we don't really care, whatever,” that's a good thing. That's a sign that you need to find somewhere else and you need to start looking for a new job because information, good or bad, is key and it's super helpful in the long run to know where you fit in and in the company in general. So it might not be the information you're looking for, but it gives you information to know that they don't appreciate you or they undervalue you so it's time to find somebody who really understands and appreciates you.

What are some practical ways that young professionals can build their confidence when it comes to advocating for themselves in the workplace?

A big one is knowing that they're necessary in a workplace. Is it necessary to have young voices, new thought processes, and new imaginations in a company? It's absolutely necessary, and that's what helps grow and build the company. You can't just have everyone at the C-suite level, right? So just knowing that in general and what you can add to it, and understanding the different skill sets that can be added just being new into the company—that alone helps build your confidence. 

Secondly, think back to the people who are championing you, who you can share information with, and know that what you're asking for is not totally crazy, totally out of bounds, and out of line. And look, sometimes you will get pushed back. So I always tell my clients and people I work with to think about the one thing that you love more than anything. For me, it's my kids. So anybody who is underpaying me or undervaluing me is actually really undervaluing my children and underpaying them too because they benefit from it and it's also taking time away from them. That alone gives me the confidence and pisses me off. So I channel my energy in my love for them to propel myself forward and do a better job and do better. It doesn’t have to be kids. It could be your partner, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, could be your pet, it could be your best friend. If it's you, that's amazing, then you probably don't even need this page. But it's a good way to distance yourself and have the confidence to do what you need to do.

Can you share a personal anecdote or experience from your own career journey?

I really wanted to be a music attorney. I did all my research, and there was this one law firm that made me think, “Oh, this is going to be the law firm.” They represented everybody that was huge at the time this is where I wanted to go. So I had this preconceived notion that an entertainment law firm would look much different than my big Wall Street law firm. I thought it was going to be light and airy, people wearing T-shirts, not suits, diverse, you know what I mean?

I ended up getting an interview, and I walked into the law firm. Oh my god, it was not anything like that. In fact, it was mahogany bookcases full of legal books. It was really dark and it was really quiet. And it was really stale. And it was really full of all-white men in suits. And I had four interviews scheduled Back to back and I kept meeting with white man after white man after white man. I wanted this job so badly. But something happened in the last interview, the guy was like, “Do you have any more questions?” and I have no idea where this came from but I just said, “Yeah, where are all the women?” And he was like, “They're out there.” And he meant the assistants. 

He had this magic eight ball on his desk, and he grabbed it, and he was like, “Um, let me just do this. Where's Jennifer Justice gonna be in her career? Maybe she's too ambitious” and I was like, “Yeah, I am. So guess what? This is not the job for me.” 

And it was the best thing that ever happened because I was never going to succeed in that place. Never. I looked around and I saw there was no one like me, I was never going to succeed. Instead, I went to another law firm and joined with three other people. They interviewed me and I walked in and it was light and airy. There was music playing, and there were women and people of color. There were young people, and there were women partners. And that’s why I went there. I was a partner there and 11 years later, I left and went with Jay Z and you know how super successful I was in that career. 

To learn how to negotiate your compensation directly from Jennifer, click here!

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