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Salary Survey: GCS Value Career Opportunities Over Salary

Alison O'Connell LATINLAWYER.COM

LACCA’s latest research into in-house compensation across Latin America reveals that when it comes to priorities, the majority of GCs value growth as a professional, opportunities for career progression and satisfaction with the culture and work environment over salaries and bonuses.

These days, lawyers working in-house see opportunities for growth as a professional, the ability to ascend the corporate ladder and gain experience outside of the legal sphere, alongside a good work life balance as much more important than the level of compensation when choosing where to work, according to LACCA’s research.

Private practice firms can often be a great place to launch a legal career, particularly since young lawyers are exposed to many aspects of the law across various industries and may even receive mentoring from senior associates or even partners. In addition, the compensation packages and perks that come with amassing a list of clients can often be enticing because they tend to be higher than those of a legal counsel starting out in business, but the opportunities for a more varied and unique business and legal experience offered by in-house roles has been attracting more and more lawyers to take the leap. “Once you move into an in-house role, lawyers know they are sacrificing the financial rewards that come with law firms,” says Alejandro Silva-Lujan, former assistant GC at the International Finance Corporation. “What is key for lawyers in corporate legal departments to be satisfied is the culture and work environment … lawyers need to feel that they are making a real impact on the business and that their work is respected and valued – not necessarily monetarily – by the legal department and the corporation as a whole.”

An abundance of opportunity

The role of the in-house lawyer within businesses has changed drastically compared with 10 years ago. Once the provider of legal advice and overseer of ethics and compliance in an organisation, today’s corporate counsel need to be commercial advisors, strategic thinkers, forward planners and excellent communicators. Added to this, organisations are keeping more work in-house, which means that on the career development front, there is a greater willingness to train up and invest in junior lawyers, with greater value put on early in-house exposure and commerciality.

“The in-house role has been changing dramatically in the last decade, it is increasingly challenging and provides invaluable opportunities to become a corporate or business lawyer with a real understanding of how businesses operate and how to really add value in a more broad and strategic manner,” says Alejandro Rubilar, managing director at JPMorgan Chase & Co. “The opportunities an in-house role provides are huge and challenging and shape a lawyer with transferrable skills.”

In fact, there was an overwhelming sense among the GCs and recruiters LACCA interviewed as part of the research, that there were far more opportunities for career development in-house than in a law firm, particularly since the pyramid structure of law firms means not everyone can get to the top. “In Latin America in particular, I think that in-house legal departments offer much more opportunity for upward mobility. This is especially true with regard to US or European-based public companies,” says Barrett Avigdor. “In-house law departments put a high value on teamwork and practical solutions. In contrast, to become a partner at a law firm requires you to develop or inherit a book of business.”

Variety is key

Working as part of a team to achieve company goals, while also being able to visualise the impact of the work being done is something many in-house counsel pointed out was an important factor for moving in-house. “Many lawyers move in-house because they like being part of a team and working closely with business people from start to finish. Law firm lawyers find it frustrating that they often don’t know the long-term impact of their work because clients only call when they need something done,” says Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Avigdor.

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