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New Survey Shows 15% Pay Increase for Chief Legal Officers and General Counsel in the U.S., Nearly Half of Which Came in the Form of Bonuses

Hanover, MD – July 27, 2022 – General Counsel and Chief Legal Officers in the U.S. reported a 15% increase in total compensation since 2020, with their annual pay now averaging $578,446, according to the 2022 Global In-House Compensation Survey released today by Major, Lindsey & Africa, the world’s largest legal search firm. These pay increases—coupled with the fact that nearly half of GC compensation was delivered in terms of bonuses, similar to the compensation structure of other top C-suite leaders—reflects the increasing prominence of the GC role within many organizations. The survey also found that, globally, the compensation of male in-house attorneys continues to outpace that of their female counterparts at most levels. The 2022 Global In-House Compensation Survey was fielded in partnership with Western Management Group and based on responses from 3,300 respondents from 46 countries.

“Attorney retention was likely the most significant factor driving the increase we saw in bonuses,” said Michael Sachs, Partner with MLA’s In-House Counsel Recruiting group. “Additionally, since 2021 in particular was a successful year for many companies, financially, it made sense to give out generous bonuses to retain top talent across all levels, especially as workloads remained high across the board.”   

Although steps have been taken to resolve pay inequity between men and women occupying the same roles, globally, male CLOs and GC still reported higher total annual actual cash (TAC) than their female colleagues. The TAC for men averaged, $578,374 compared to $501,486 for women, representing a pay differential of 14%—as well as increase in the gender pay gap since the survey was last conducted in 2020. However, men in the U.S. reported an average base salary of $361,514 compared to $339,561 for women—indicating that the majority of the gender pay discrepancy was attributable to the difference in bonuses paid to men versus women, rather than that in their base salaries.

“With women long responsible for a disproportionate share of childcare and housework duties, the sad reality is that, for many female attorneys, working from home has become a 24/7 proposition over the last year,” said Edina Beasley, Managing Director with MLA’s In-House Counsel Recruiting. “Unfortunately, one driver of this growing gender pay gap – especially in terms of bonuses, which are in many ways decided by subjective judgment – could be the bias that women are less invested in their work because they are also focused on domestic tasks. Our survey’s findings highlight the importance of continuing to call attention to ongoing pay inequities between male and female attorneys, as well as the need to make up for the progress lost during the pandemic in narrowing the gender pay gap.”

In the U.S., Regional GC and Deputy GC saw a growth in annual salary between 2020and 2022. Regional GC salaries grew 7% from $424,733 in 2020 to $453,757 in 2022, while Deputy GC salaries grew 12% from $354,005 in 2020 to now $386,667. With a record number of first-time GC assuming the top in-house position last year, these increases highlight the growing significance of these roles as part of companies’ overall planning for the future of their legal departments.

In terms of industry, Energy/Public Utility ranked the highest paid field for in-house legal professionals. Globally, CLOs and GC in this field reported a total annual actual cash of $862,916—followed by Banking at $727,857 and Retail Sales Operations at $694,287. U.S. CLOs and GC in Energy/Public Utility also reported the highest total annual actual cash by industry at $944,783, followed by Retail Sales Operations at $768,692 and Banking at $727,857.

Other notable findings of the survey include:

  • Globally, the industries with the largest increase in TAC from 2020 to 2022 were Entertainment (69%) and Energy/Public Utility (57%). Moreover, the global industries with the greatest drop in TAC were Agriculture (-40%) and Aerospace/Defense (-34%).
  • The one notable exception to the gender pay gap can be seen in the earnings of Regional GC and Senior Counsel level employees, globally, where females reported higher average pay than males at every point of measurement. In the U.S. alone, the total annual actual cash for female Regional GC and Senior Counsel exceeded that for males, at $434,941 versus $425,649 and $292,379 vs $278,114.
  • While White GC earned an average compensation greater than that of Asian, Black, and Latino GC, the survey found an increase in compensation from 2020 to 2022 for Asian (33%) and Black (17%) GC.

“With many companies placing renewed emphasis on DEI initiatives over the past two years, it’s encouraging to see compensation increase for Black and Asian GC in particular,” said Melba Hughes, Partner, Executive Director of MLA’s In-House Counsel Recruiting group and its National In-House Diversity Practice Leader. “While this is a promising start, we still have a long way to go in order to ensure equal pay and representation in the legal field.”

The full text of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s 2022 Global In-House Compensation Survey is available here.

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