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New Study Shows Strong Gains in Compensation for General Counsel in 2016 as the Position Gains Prominence

Hanover, MD (November 29, 2017)Major, Lindsey & Africa, the world’s largest legal search firm, today released the results of their In-House Compensation Report, revealing that general counsel saw a 9.6% increase in total compensation between 2015 and 2016. While base salaries for GCs increased by only 1.3%, bonuses grew 38% in that same period. The study examined compensation data of 2,207 in-house counsel, both GCs and non-GCs, at companies across a range of industries and sizes between 2015 and 2016. 

“These increases in compensation point directly to the GC’s growing sphere of influence, reaching beyond legal functions into other matters of business,” said Mike Sachs, Partner in Major, Lindsey & Africa’s In-House Practice Group. “Rather than simply overseeing the legal department, GCs have become an integral partner to the C-Suite. As a result, their compensation is reflecting their new roles as strategic decision makers and trusted advisors to the CEO.”

In-house counsel at other levels saw their compensation decrease slightly, with average base salaries dropping from $210,000 in 2015 to $208,000 in 2016. Similarly, the average bonus for non-general counsel decreased from $71,000 in 2015 to $68,000 in 2016. 

The report also explored differences in compensation between genders. In 2016, total compensation for male in-house counsel outpaced female in-house counsel at all levels. While base salaries for male GCs was 6.3% higher than female GCs, male GCs bonuses were 31% higher than those of female GCs. The maximum bonus reported for a male GC was $3 million, while the highest female GC bonus was only $675,000. However, it’s important to note that the disparity in bonuses may be in part due to the disproportionate sample size: there were 42 female GC bonuses reported vs. 126 male GC bonuses reported. Female GC bonuses represented 25% of the bonus data pool. In the Fortune 500, 26.8% of GCs are female, a similar female to male ratio as that represented in the report data. At the non-GC level, female in-house counsel made 8.2% less overall than their male counterparts in 2016.

“In some cases, female GCs may assess themselves more critically than their male counterparts assess themselves, and thus rank their performance lower on various metrics that determine their bonus,” said Andrea Bricca, Partner in Major, Lindsey & Africa’s In-House Practice Group. “In other cases, we find that male GCs are more willing to work for companies with higher risks and higher rewards, such as technology startups. These factors could account for a few reasons why we’re seeing a large disparity in bonus amounts between the genders.” 

The study also revealed that in-house counsel for Northeast-based companies had the highest levels of compensation in 2016. At the GC level, average total compensation in the Northeast was $520,000, followed by GCs in the Midwest at $445,000 and GCs in the West at $403,000. The Northeast also held the position for highest-paid non-GC in-house counsel, with total compensation averaging $267,000, followed by the West at $258,000 and the South at $247,000. While it may seem as though Western in-house counsel would be the highest-paid due to the area’s high concentration of tech giants, salaries are lowered by the region’s many small startup companies, which typically offer smaller compensation packages. 
Additional key findings of the report include:
Female GCs saw slight decreases in total compensation between 2015 and 2016. Female GCs saw their compensation decrease 5% from 2015 to 2016, while total compensation for other female in-house lawyers remained nearly flat. 
The more highly regulated or specialized the industry, the higher the GC’s compensation. GCs working for companies in the public utilities and transportation industries (29%) and the finance/real estate/insurance industries (32%) showed some of the highest increases in total compensation between 2015 and 2016. 
Greater company revenue generally means higher compensation for in-house counsel. Both in-house counsel and GCs at companies with a revenue greater than $3 billion made significantly more than those at the lower end of the revenue spectrum. 

The full text of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s study, “2017 In-House Compensation Report” is available here.

About Major, Lindsey & Africa

Founded in 1982, Major, Lindsey & Africa is the largest and most experienced legal search firm in the world. With more than 25 offices worldwide, Major, Lindsey & Africa has earned recognition for its track record of successful general counsel, corporate counsel, partner, associate and law firm management placements. The firm also provides law firms and companies with highly specialized legal professionals on project, interim and temporary-to-permanent hire basis. Combining local market knowledge and a global recruiting network, Major, Lindsey & Africa recruiters are dedicated to understanding and meeting client and candidate needs while maintaining the highest degree of professionalism and confidentiality. The firm considers every search a diversity search and has been committed to diversity in the law since its inception. Major, Lindsey & Africa is an Allegis Group company, the global leader in talent solutions.

To learn more about Major, Lindsey & Africa, visit www.mlaglobal.com.

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