Next up in the march of 2020 in-house corporate counsel salary guides is Major, Lindsey & Africa’s survey, which it conducted in the fall of 2019. MLA received 3900 responses from 36 countries, soliciting feedback from nearly 26,000 in-house lawyers worldwide, including yours truly.

COVID-19 will likely have an outsized impact on the 2021 results of this and other in-house counsel salary survey results. But I can confirm anecdotally, as of the end of 2019, that these numbers seem on target with what my company and our peers are seeing (at least with respect to base salaries – the bonus numbers seem high to me). Note that the survey is not reporting on equity awards (stock options, restricted stock unit grants, etc.). It’s just reporting on cash. So keep that in mind as you look at the results.

MLA, of course, is one of the best-known legal search firms, placing attorneys in white-shoe law firms and Fortune 100 companies. So it might not be surprising to see numbers that appear higher than those in prior surveys (although the base salary compensation figures are in line with what we saw from Special Counsel back in March).

I strongly urge you to spend some time with the survey. There is a ton of highly granular data which cavasses details like salary by geography, practice area, company size, gender, and much more. I won’t get into all of them here because you’ll be able to apply them to your specific interests and circumstances.

And, whether you are already in-house and/or employed, or not, the results will be illuminating as you brace for salary discussions in the age of COVID or otherwise consider your career path after working from home under quarantine conditions over the last couple of months. I know I have!

You can download a copy of the survey here (and sign up to participate in the 2021 iteration).

On to the results:

MLA - Average In-House Counsel Cash Comp Survey - 2020

What strikes me first about the results is the relatively narrow band of base salaries even as roles become more senior. And the compensation gap really only accelerates once a lawyer takes on managerial responsibilities, widening between the Senior Counsel/Deputy GC level, particularly in the variable compensation/bonus column.

While we’re here, let’s take a closer look at the figures for entry-level in-house lawyers:

Here are a few of my personal takeaways:

First, I think these numbers will change dramatically in 2020 thanks to COVID. It will be interesting to see if companies make up for cash bonus shortfalls with increases in stock-based awards (which, again, are not tracked here). Either way I suspect most in-house lawyers will simply be glad to keep their jobs into 2021.

Second, I know I’m a broken record on this point, but remember my advice that it’s to your advantage to wait as long as possible before jumping in-house.

Indeed, MLA’s data “shows significant increases in total annual compensation when attorneys are promoted to roles with managerial duties such as DGC, or when they are elevated to GC. Increases in compensation for obtaining other roles is more modest.”

As always, I believe MLA’s data underscores this critical point. For example, look at the nearly $50K gap in base salary between lawyers going in-house with less than 5 years of experience versus 6 to 10! Law firm life is rough but sticking it out past the 5-year mark will pay dividends when you make the move in-house.

Finally, I mentioned above that the bonus numbers (both actual paid in 2018 and the 2019 targets) seem high to me. While the last few years have been good for most public companies and corporate America generally, I wonder if something else is at play here. Perhaps respondents included equity or other deferred compensation awards in the figures they reported?

If anything, I think the data underscores the uncertainty in variable compensation schemes, and why it’s critical to vigorously negotiate those components of your compensation package when you make the move in-house.

Based on your experience, how do these results look to you?