Amid a highly competitive hiring market, the median total compensation for in-house lawyers across all positions and industries in the U.S. rose 21% last year, according to a report from executive search firm BarkerGilmore.
- Bonuses for company lawyers increased by an average of 37% and long-term incentives were up 100% in 2021, while base pay rose 9%.
In-house attorneys at public companies made far more than their peers at private companies, with GCs at public companies receiving 98% more in total compensation, BarkerGilmore reported.
Legal recruiters have said the strong demand for in-house talent has created a candidate’s market, and BarkerGilmore’s 2022 In-House Counsel Compensation Report makes clear lawyers are securing higher compensation packages.
The financial industry, which has experienced a strong rebound from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, led the way with total compensation for in-house lawyers increasing at a 27% clip last year.
For example, general counsel at public companies in the financial sector saw average total compensation of $820,000. GCs at private companies in the finance space made an average of $570,000.
The consumer industry (21%) and professional services also saw (20%) strong gains in overall pay for attorneys.
The increased pay came amid a flurry of activity in the job market. Overall, 12% percent of survey respondents reported obtaining a new position in 2021, which was a 50% increase from the year prior.
“Companies continued hiring critical in-house legal talent throughout the year, and the pressure to attract top talent was vast,” the BarkerGilmore report said. “The best of the best lawyers were being approached from all angles. Smart companies stepped up their retention efforts with bonuses and long-term compensation incentives.”
Across positions, senior counsel were the most likely to receive a sign-on bonus at 41%.
While GCs were the least likely to secure a sign-on bonus, with 33% receiving them, the median sign-on bonuses they obtained were far higher than those secured by other in-house attorneys. The average sign-on bonus for general counsel was $75,000 compared to $20,000 for senior counsel.
GCs also led the way with the size of the long-term incentive packages they received. For example, general counsel at public companies with $1 billion to $5 billion in revenue obtained an average LTI of $400,000.
Restricted stock units (RSUs) are the most common form of long-term incentives at public companies, and LTIs at financial companies rose a whopping 217% across positions.
The BarkerGilmore compensation figures come from an online survey completed by nearly 2,500 in-house lawyers from a variety of industries and practice areas during March and April of this year.
Whether or not survey respondents had previously worked at a law firm and the type of firm in which they had experience impacted compensation levels for all in-house positions, according to BarkerGilmore.
Attorneys with Am Law 100 law firm experience saw 38% greater compensation at the general counsel level, 32% at the managing counsel level and 27% at the senior counsel level compared to hires with no law firm experience.
For example, general counsel with previous Am Law 100 experience made an average of $800,000 compared to those with AM Law 200 experience making $550,000 and those with no law firm experience making $498,000.
In-house attorneys at all levels who went to a Top 100 law school also earned higher compensation than their peers who did not. Those who attended Top 100 schools received 25% more pay at the GC level, 19% more at the managing counsel level and 12% more at the senior counsel level.
Additionally, lawyers who both went to a Top 100 law school and worked at an Am Law 200 or better law firm received 15% higher total compensation packages than respondents with the same law firm experience who did not attend a law school in the Top 100, the report found.