Legal operations chiefs are commanding pay packages that rival those of other corporate executives, a survey by Legal Operators and Brightflag finds.
The typical annual pay for top managers at companies with legal departments of 100 people or more is about $250,000, which includes base pay, cash bonus and equity grants, according to the survey of 241 legal ops professionals, most of them in the United States.
The pay tends to be highest for the heads of legal ops in big companies in California, where it’s not unusual to see pay packages of between $375,000 and $475,000, although the highest pay package reported in the survey, at $775,000, is in a different state.
“The legal operations profession is exploding,” say survey report authors Kevin Cohn of Brightflag and Colin McCarthy of Legal Operators. Brightflag provides AI-assisted legal operations software and Legal Operators is a resource and education group.
Legal operations has evolved since it became its own discipline in the early 1990s. Originally it was focused on risk management but now it’s more of a strategic operation, with legal ops chiefs expected to bring an innovative mindset to the role.
Like the heads of other corporate departments, legal ops chiefs are starting to bring their own personal brand to the role.
“I had to learn business acumen, leadership skills,” says Tom Stephenson, director of legal operations at Credit Karma, which has a 75-person legal department. “The budgeting, the financial planning and analysis (FP&A) – all that stuff is [part of the] skill set I brought prior to being in legal operations.”
Stephenson talks about his effort to build a personal brand as a legal ops chief in an Inside Voices webcast.
“Effective personal branding opens countless doors for you,” said Stephenson in the webcast, which is targeted to legal ops professionals. “In legal ops, it’s always more about just yourself or your vision. You’re the mama hen, taking care of people … but at the same time, you must balance professional needs as well.”
Pay pegged to company size
For legal ops chiefs in smaller companies, with legal teams of 10 people or fewer, the typical compensation package is much smaller, generally around $125,000, although on the higher range it might be closer to $175,000.
Compensation tends to increase as legal departments get bigger. The pay package for those heading up departments with between 50 and 100 people is typically a little over $200,000.
Whether the division head is admitted to practice law and where the person is located are individual factors that can influence pay. Those admitted to practicing law tend to earn almost 30% more than those who aren’t, and almost two-thirds say their pay reflects the geographic area in which they live.
The survey suggests evidence of a gender pay gap, with women and non-binary chiefs typically earning about 10% less, while no meaningful pay gap appears associated with ethnicity.
Since survey respondents are self-selected, the results aren’t statistically valid, but, anecdotally, general counsel and chief legal officers might find the results helpful as a snapshot as they look at the pay packages they offer in their departments.
“The survey results capture a moment in time,” the survey report says. “The job market and compensation continue to change rapidly.”