Unlike law firm compensation, where you can always turn to NALP or publications like Above the Law, figuring out the appropriate barometer for your in-house counsel salary negotiations can be difficult. Different industries have different approaches to compensation, so it’s always helpful when Robert Half publishes its annual salary guide which covers both law firm and in-house compensation trends. The 2017 edition recently came out, and I have pulled the key metrics for in-house compensation and present them below.
But before we dive into the numbers, keep in mind that Robert Half notes “bonuses, incentives, and other benefits are not taken into account.” So we are just talking here about base compensation. The numbers are further broken down into large, midsize, and small companies (by revenue, as you’ll see below) and my thoughts on the salary ranges follow. Finally, keep in mind that Robert Half provides a geographic adjustment on the last page of the Guide (so these numbers will be higher or lower depending on your local market).
10+ years of experience
Large ($250M+) $190K-$270K
Midsize ($25M-$250M) $160K-$238K
Small (under $25M) $138K-$193K
If you’re an experienced lawyer (10 or more years) working in a company with revenues over $250M, I think this salary range is on point. I have said before that, based on my experience, a salary range of $225K to $275K seems appropriate for an experienced in-house lawyer working in a public company. Again, the wild card is bonus, stock, or other equity, all of which will depend on the industry and the specific company’s approach to compensation. But as a general rule I think these figures are reasonably accurate.
4-9 years of experience
Here is where the rubber meets the road, in my opinion, when it comes to making the jump from law firm to in-house practice. Just look at the difference between a mid-level lawyer’s compensation and a senior lawyer’s compensation in a large company! Nearly $50K/year on the high end. The problem with going in-house too soon (as I have written about here at Dollar Barrister previously) is that you will likely only get a small cost-of-living adjustment each year. The only way to really turbocharge your earnings will be to leave, which has its own associated costs (i.e. 401k vesting, stock option vesting, etc. – more on that in a future post).
0-3 years of experience
I actually think these numbers seem high. For example, at my current in-house position, junior attorneys are being paid between $75K and $125K depending on the market. I also think it is somewhat rare to find an in-house role as a first- or second-year associate. And, if you do, it’s likely you will take a pay cut from your Biglaw salary – all the more reason to try and gut it out in the firm until you’re a bit more senior.
What do you think of these numbers? Do they seem on target for your market? Do you agree with the Robert Half surveys generally? Why or why not?