The 2019 Robert Half Legal Salary Guide opens with remarks that should fill attorney job-seekers with holiday cheer: “employers are competing in a fierce hiring market today. Skilled legal professionals are in short supply, and top candidates frequently field multiple job offers. For many roles, this talent crisis is expected to deepen.”

As we did the last two years with the 2017 and 2018 versions of the Guide, we’ve plucked the relevant data related to corporate in-house counsel salaries and present it for your consideration below. We’ve also included the 2018 data so you can see the change year-over-year. You’ll notice a mild increase in base salaries across Robert Half’s 25th through 95th percentiles of salary ranges.

(Looking for a new job in 2019? Check out our shop for cover letter and CV templates and other products that can help you make the move in-house!)

Like last year, 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.

(Again, Robert Half does not include bonus or stock in its calculations – these are average salaries nationally, and you will need to use the market variance figures included in the Guide to determine the correct numbers for different cities.)

10+ years of experience (2019, by percentile)
95th      $257,000
75th      $171,750
50th      $139,750
25th      $115,000

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

Once again, these numbers look spot on to me. I’ve said many times that a base salary range of $225K to $275K is the right ballpark for an experienced in-house lawyer working in a large organization or public company in a major market. And if you work in a smaller legal department, these numbers should help you negotiate a better base salary by giving you some hard data to present to internal recruiters or the hiring manager.

4-9 years of experience (2019)
95th      $193,000
75th      $135,500
50th      $110,000
25th      $77,250

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

If you’re a law firm associate looking to make the move in-house, I would spend my time carefully analyzing this section of the Guide. Again, this is the sweet spot for making that first move from private practice into a corporate legal department. You’ll want to make sure any offer is consistent with these figures and that your base salary fits in with your expectations and requirements around rent, student loans, and other personal finance matters.

One lesson I have learned the hard way as an in-house lawyer is that you need to do everything you can to get any year-end bonus expectations or stock options written into your offer letter. Don’t assume that your base salary will just entitle you to a 15 or 25 percent cash bonus at the end of the calendar year. More on this in a future post here at Dollar Barrister.

0-3 years of experience (2019)
95th      $171,750
75th      $112,500
50th      $91,750
25th      $65,000

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

These figures should convince you that it’s best to wait as long as possible before making the move in-house. Base salaries for junior in-house lawyers are not great and you will be hurting your long-term compensation potential if you make the jump too soon. Of course there may be compelling exceptions to that general rule, but make sure you look at these numbers carefully, comparing them to what your more senior colleagues will make coming out of the law firm, before you pull the trigger.

What do you think of the Robert Half data? Let us know in the comments!