We wrote this same post last year after the release of the 2017 Robert Half Legal Salary Guide, which was one of our most viewed articles here at Dollar Barrister over the last calendar year. So here it is again, updated for 2018 and Robert Half’s new methodology, along with some fresh thoughts from Dollar Barrister and the perspective of in-house corporate counsel!

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 (available here) which covers both law firm and in-house compensation trends. The 2018 edition is out, and I have pulled the key metrics for in-house compensation and present them below for your reference and use.

Note that Robert Half’s methodology has changed. In 2017, the numbers were broken down into large, midsize, and small companies (by revenue, as you’ll see). However, in 2018, they are presented by percentile (25th, 50th, 75th, and 95th).

These percentiles represent a job candidate’s increasing level of experience, skills and expertise, and the level of complexity and responsibility of his or her putative role; the 25th percentile candidate has a low level of experience, his or her skills require further development, and the role is in an industry without much competition for talent or an organization that is small or not very complex. The 50th percentile is average while the 95th is more or less a unicorn candidate in a highly complex, regulated, and/or competitive industry that is willing and able to pay for top talent.

At first I wasn’t sure what to make of this change, but in thinking about it I think it makes sense. While an important metric to consider when thinking about going in-house, revenues aren’t always the best barometer of how much an in-house counsel should be paid. Even in a large public company certain functions (securities work, M&A, etc.) are much more complicated and better compensated than a junior lawyer who is handling, say, procurement matters or subcontracts.

Like last year, our thoughts on the salaries follow each level of experience as was presented by Robert Half. Also 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). It also notes that these salaries are based on actual Robert Half placements and, again, reflect starting pay only.

Finally, and as we noted last year, 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!

 10+ years of experience (2018, by percentile)
95th                     $255,750
75th                     $169,750
50th                     $138,000
25th                     $114,000

10+ years of experience (2017)
Large ($250M+)              $190K-$270K
Midsize ($25M-$250M)   $160K-$238K
Small (under $25M)         $138K-$193K

I have said before that, based on my experience, a base salary range of $225K to $275K seems like the right base salary range for an experienced in-house lawyer working in a public or sophisticated private company. And for a specialized, experienced in-house counsel in a complex organization, the 2018 figures are consistent with that range as well.

Again, the wild card is signing bonus, end-of-year bonus, stock, or other equity-based compensation, all of which will depend on the industry and the specific company’s approach to comp. But as a general rule I think Robert Half’s figures are once again reasonably accurate.

4-9 years of experience (2018)
25th                     $75,000
50th                     $109,000
75th                     $133,250
95th                     $190,750

4-9 years of experience (2017)
Large                    $169K-$225K
Midsize                 $140K-$206K
Small                    $115K-$167K

These numbers represent the sweet spot for what law firm associates can expect when they make the jump in-house. As we noted last year, they should compel you to stay in the law firm for as long as you can. And, while you’re still there, they emphasize how critical it is for you to specialize within a specific industry where there are realistic in-house exit options (if in-house is your goal, of course). 

0-3 years of experience (2018)
25th                     $63,500
50th                     $90,000
75th                     $109,750
95th                     $168,000

0-3 years of experience (2017)
Large                   $129K-$167K
Midsize                $105K-$139K
Small                    $87K-$115K

As we said last year, these numbers still seem high, and should illustrate why law firm practice is a necessary evil (depending on your point of view, of course) if you want to make it in-house. 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.

Let us know what you think of these numbers and our analysis in the comments below! Do they seem on target for your market? Do you agree with the Robert Half surveys generally and the new 2018 methodology specifically? Why or why not?