I did it the chicken's way: through email. And I used some of the phrasing from fellow commenters! Thanks to y'all.
But ten minutes after I sent that email, I got a phone call from the partner who wanted to interrogate me about turning him down. It was so weird! He asked what the reason was, and I told him that the office was just a bit too far from me and that I was looking to work a little closer to home. He sort of accepted that, then said "It's the money, isn't it?" Um......
Here's what I had been told:
This is a great place to work. We would require a year-long commitment, and really are looking for someone to work here for several years. We would want you to help with marketing the law firm. "We wouldn't be able to pay you very much." I asked the associate about the salary range and he said "high 20s-early 30s." The benefits are "lean," and they have a really expensive health plan that they cover most, but not all, the costs for. I was "at the top of their list," and all I could think was "ohhh, you're not on my list." :/
My salary floor is $30k, and really I want to start higher than that knowing the going rates in my areas. It would definitely have to be higher if the health insurance is going to be expensive too. I have to pay rent, utilities, car stuff, food, and a student loan. I don't think I could afford to work there.
The office is very small (nice, but small, and I tend to hate small), and I could feel the walls closing in around me when I heard "We need you here for several years." I don't even know if I will be living in this town in several years. No way I want to commit right away to that, especially in a right-to-work state. He even asked if there was a weird vibe I got from them. Well, sorta, but it was mostly that I felt I wouldn't be happy there and wouldn't want to continue on in the interview process knowing I'd never want to work there.
I am bilingual, trained as an interpreter, and now trained as a paralegal. As far as this region goes, I'm the goddamn unicorn. I only applied to this office (and a few others) to see how long it would take to get back to me while I wait for the real deal.
That phone call made me feel like I was turning down a second date. I was polite and concise in my email. I don't think there was any need to call me. He really wanted an answer to why, and I told him as nicely as possible that it was too far away from me. That's true! But I had so many other reasons! What kind of masochist wants to know all the reasons why they got rejected? He sounded kind of hurt, which was really creeping me out. I do this in dating too: I put the brakes on early enough that I don't waste my time and feel even worse when I don't dig the guy. We met once, we didn't hit it off, let's not meet again. Kthanxbai.
I just never thought I'd have to do it in relation to work too.